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2015 Trip Reports

Tilden Nature Area
December 26, 2015
Leader(s): Alan Kaplan
# of participants: 35
# of species: 26

Today was the second Annual GGAS “Hunt the Wren” Bird Walk.Refreshments at 8:00 am (sparkling apple cider, crackers, almonds, prosciutto and lox), with music for Wren Day and brief talk about the St. Stephen’s Day tradition in Ireland and elsewhere of “hunting the wren” in the early morning (no longer is the bird killed, or even caught). We did not find a Pacific Wren (once conspecific with The Wren of Europe, which is now called Eurasian Wren, it has been split from the east coast populations which are still called the Winter Wren). We did find and hear several Bewick’s Wrens.A good turnout of our Meet-up group, including Cynthia of the Santa Clara Audubon, who was beat out for the prize of coming the furthest by Pete, from Tracy! Thank you to all who attended, and to Becky F. for the Ruby-crowned Kinglet photo with ruby-crown displayed!Contact Alan Kaplan if you want my Wren Hunt/St. Stephen’s Day/Boxing Day notes.

Lake Merritt
December 23, 2015
Leader(s): Hilary Powers and Ruth Tobey
# of participants: 15
# of species:  47

The arm of the lake behind Children’s Fairyland was full of goldeneyes in December – a couple of dozen; more than I’d ever seen together (except for the Sunday before the 4th-Wednesday walk, when the Christmas Bird Count crew found twice as many in the same spot). Not just Common Goldeneyes, either, but the much rarer Barrow’s Goldeneyes as well. The black and white drakes were accompanied by their brown and gray ducks, recognizable by black bills with orange tips for the Common and orange bills with black tips for the Barrow’s.

The fifteen participants in the walk headed for the back arm of the lake almost at once in hopes of seeing the goldeneyes (and to get away from the painful sun reflecting off the main body of the lake), pausing only to enjoy the American White Pelicans, the Greater and Lesser Scaup, the Canvasbacks, and the other regulars between the nature center and the boathouse, and to visit the Green Heron that ducked around the left-hand end of the near island. A Red-shouldered Hawk flew overhead as we left the lake, stirring the pigeons, and the trees of Lakeside Park produced the usual-for-the-season round of Yellow-rumped Warblers, Ruby-crowned Kinglets (crowns entirely hidden under olive-green head feathers), robins, and whatnot.

Heading back from the lake, still a little dizzy from the goldeneye overdose, we encountered the second great sight of the day: in one of the catalpa trees bordering the path where it meets Bellevue, as we paused to look at the rows of holes made by sapsuckers in years past, we saw a new hole in progress – a Red-breasted Sapsucker was working diligently along the trunk. That’s a bird that shows up only once in a year, if we see it at all.

Then, leaving the garden (as always a great place for birders), we ran into a third rarity: another woodpecker landed in a tree in front of us and revealed itself as a Downy – unseen on any 4th Wednesday trip since 2013, and not in December since 2009 – instead of the much more common Nuttall’s we’d been hearing. The expectation was so strong that it took a moment to register the difference, even though the wide white patch on the bird’s back was utterly different from the dense black and white ladder we thought we’d find.

Forty-seven species all told, and we enjoyed every one of them (except maybe the Rock Pigeons) amid the bright sunshine of yet another great day at Lake Merritt….

Corona Heights
December 18, 2015
Leader(s): Brian Fitch
# of participants: n/r
# of species: 31

A small group turned out today in spite of early showers and major restrictions tied to the renovation of the Randall Museum, and was rewarded with some wonderful sightings.

A young Red-tailed Hawk was found perching on a fence post at close range, and it then caught a mouse which it seemed to devour just before it was attacked by a likely sibling. The pair tumbled around on the ground until the first bird slid off of the cliff and had to take flight. Other highlights included a long and close study of an apparently pure Yellow-shafted Flicker, a flyby of a tailless flicker, and the slow swirling flyover of three White-throated Swifts.

Fort Mason
December 13, 2015
Leader(s): David Assmann
# of participants: n/r
# of species:

The monthly GGAS walk had to be called off this morning shortly after it started due to heavy rain but we did manage nice scope views of the WANDERING TATTLER on the abandoned pier before the rain. On Friday I had a brief look at the continuing TROPICAL KINGBIRD flying into the Community Garden.

Tilden Nature Area
December 4, 2015
Leader(s): Alan Kaplan
# of participants: 34
# of species: 30

We had our first December Book Exchange event in the parking lot: thank you to all who brought books to give-away or exchange.

We looked at The Moon Tree, a Redwood planted in front of the Environmental Education Center in 1976, from seeds taken to the Moon by astronaut (and former USDA Forest Service smokejumper) Stuart Roosa- he was the Command Module pilot for the 1971 Apollo 14 mission. See the 2011 biography, Smoke Jumper, Moon Pilot by William G. Moseley for Roosa’s story. Bay Area News Group papers recently featured the moon trees (there is a second one in the Regional Parks Botanic Garden in Tilden) which led to our group’s curiosity about them.

Birds O’ the Day were the pair of termite-catching Red-Breasted Sapsuckers, acting like flycatchers in the sun of the Loop Road. They were accompanied by Hutton’s Vireos and Townsend’s Warblers, also in fly-catching mode, responding to the emergence of subterranean termites on a warm, sunny morning after rains. The juvenile Cooper’s Hawk that Doug found at the lake, hiding among the low branches near a filling Jewel Lake was also a nice find.

Theme of the day was Winter Survival Strategies of Birds; let me know if you want a copy of the notes.

Lake Merritt
November 25, 2015
Leader(s): Hilary Powers and Ruth Tobey
# of participants: 20
# of species: 40

The lake was its usual active self, but the big discovery of today’s walk was the Magic Tree — the one tree in Lakeside Park where the roving flock of little birds happens to be at the moment the group arrives. (If you don’t find The Tree, you can spend a lot of time wandering around the park looking at empty branches….) Anyway, we saw too many Yellow-rumped Warblers to count, plus three brilliant yellow Townsend’s Warblers with their dashing burglar masks and a jauntily crested Oak Titmouse all in one place, plus some White-crowned Sparrows, a couple of dust-brown California Towhees, and a robin, and we heard a Nuttall’s Woodpecker give its police-whistle flying call.Almost all the lake’s winter regulars were back, including lots of Common Goldeneyes but, sadly, none of the rarer Barrow’s variety. Both types of scaup, four kinds of grebes (including one of the big long-necked Western Grebes side by side with a Horned Grebe looking like its Mini-Me), Canvasbacks, and a host of others too numerous to list.

Forty species all told, on the sort of crisp and cool sunny day that Lake Merritt is best at….

Valle Vista – Upper San Leandro Reservoir
November 21, 2015
Leader(s): Steve and Carol Lombardi
# of participants: 22
# of species: 55

We advertised as an ear-birding walk. Unfortunately, the birds didn’t cooperate, especially for the first couple of hours. The participants were very patient and quiet in spite of the hard birding.

Things livened up in the middle of the morning and we had good looks and listens to many species out by the horse corral and then returning through the Monterey pine grove.
Apparently, EBMUD has introduced some water into Upper San Leandro Reservoir, so there was standing water in the creek all the way back to the bridge and the upper arm of the lake had enough water for rafts of ducks to be present.
Sunny and warm with a very light breeze. Nice day for a walk in spite of the pick-and-shovel birding.

GGAS Birds the Bay with Dolphin Charters
November 21, 2015
Leader(s): David Assmann
# of participants: 29
# of species: 44

At 8:45 a.m. on Saturday November 21st, 29 enthusiastic birders boarded the double-decker River Dolphin at the Berkeley Marina for a full day of birding on San Francisco Bay with Golden Gate Audubon and Dolphin Charters. It was sunny, and the Bay was flat without any whitecaps.

Heading out of the dock, we got good looks at a number of Black Oystercatchers and a Black Turnstone. Shortly after leaving the dock, a Black Scoter flew in front of the boat, a harbinger of the day’s potential. While we saw hundreds of Surf Scoters on the trip, seeing a Black Scoter in the Bay is always special, since this winter resident sea duck is normally found in the Pacific Ocean.

Much more amazing than the Black Scoter was our second notable sighting of the day – not a bird, but a Northern Fur Seal, floating a little more than a mile from shore. It was in a classic fur seal jug handle pose – the hindflippers resting on top of a foreflipper out of the water. This apparently healthy young seal was miles away from its usual habitat. Northern Fur Seals are normally strictly pelagic, and only use a few offshore islands, like the Farallon Islands, for breeding and pupping.

Northern Fur Seals were common before the arrival of Europeans on the West Coast. In the middens at the Emeryville Shell Mounds, small numbers of fur seal bones have been found dating to between 700 BC and 1300 AD. However, fur seals were coveted by Europeans for their fur, and they were almost totally wiped out by hunters in the late 1800s off the coast of California.

A small population was discovered in 1968 on San Miguel Island (the westernmost of the Channel Islands). A few of those seals made their way to the Farallones and in 1996, for the first time in more than a century, a fur seal was born on the Farallones. Since then, this population has increased to more than 1,000 seals. However, despite being protected, fur seal populations are still declining worldwide, and the species is listed as vulnerable under the Endangered Species Act.

After taking long looks at the Northern Fur Seal (allowing photographers to take multiple pictures), the River Dolphin slowly made its way north along the east side of the San Francisco Bay. Ducks were abundant, including many Greater and Lesser Scaups, Buffleheads, Ruddy Ducks and Surf Scoters. Cormorants (mostly Double-Crested), Eared and Horned Grebes, and Brown Pelicans were also common.
Exploring the Richmond Inner Harbor we were able to spot Ospreys sitting on a number of poles, as well as a few shorebirds and seven species of gulls (Western, Glaucous-Winged, Mew, Heerman’s, Ring-Billed, Herring and California). The boat made its way past Brooks Island, a 373-acre reserve owned by the East Bay Regional Parks District. Caspian Terns and Black-Crowned Night Herons nest there, although we didn’t see either species there on this trip.
Heading towards the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, we passed close by Red Rock, a 5.8 acre, privately-owned island, currently available to any buyer willing to pay $5 million for the island. Once mined for manganese, it is the only privately-owned island in the San Francisco Bay. As the boat passed by, a Say’s Phoebe was flycatching from one of the few trees on the island.

After passing under the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, we could hear the foghorn on East Brother Island, which was being demonstrated for guests at the East Brother Light Station. This is a Victorian Bed and Breakfast on the island in the strait that separates the San Francisco Bay from the San Pablo Bay. This pricy (up to $415 a night) bed and breakfast is a unique place to experience the Bay. While we couldn’t see any birds on East Brother Island, which is mainly taken up by the Bed and Breakfast, West Brother Island, immediately to the west, was covered with Cormorants and Gulls.After leaving the Brother Islands, the boat headed back under the San Rafael Bridge and past San Quentin Prison. We had close-up looks at an Osprey, and found a number of ducks close to shore, including two Eurasian Wigeons in with a number of American Wigeons. Heading up Corte Madera Creek we spotted American Avocets, Black-Necked Stilts, Long Billed Curlews, Black-Bellied Plovers, Least Sandpipers, Snowy and Great Egrets, a Belted Kingfisher, a Black-Crowned Night Heron, and a Spotted Sandpiper.

Continuing south towards Tiburon, we had another avian highlight – a Black Tern! It was spotted flying north, close to an Elegant Tern. Then as we headed towards Angel Island, Sharon Jue photographed a Brown Booby!

The River Dolphin passed Angel Island, and then Alcatraz Island, before checking the northernmost piers in San Francisco for birds. Travelling east, we got great looks at Harbor Seals and the lighthouse on Yerba Buena Island. Heading back to Berkeley, we sailed under the Bay Bridge and got one more avian highlight before the trip ended – a Peregrine Falcon on the Berkeley Pier.

The final bird tally — 55 species. Thanks to the expertise of Barbara Fitzgerald, the knowledgeable Dolphin Charters guide, all participants also learned a lot about the history, geology, buildings and other interesting features of the Bay on the trip. It was truly a magical day.

Fort Mason
November 15, 2015
Leader(s): David Assmann
# of participants: n/r
# of species: 44

We were treated to great views of the continuing TROPICAL KINGBIRD near the Haskall House, as well as two GREAT HORNED OWLS in the palm tree behind the General’s House (one flew in from the Eucalyptus tree over our heads). Early in the morning a BONAPARTE’S GULL flew over Aquatic Park, and a NASHVILLE WARBLER foraged in the Community Garden.

Bay Trail Bicycle Trip: Aquatic Park, Emeryville, Albany Bulb
November 14, 2015
Leader(s): Pat Greene and Jeffrey Black
# of participants: 30+
# of species: 40

It was a perfect late fall morning, with mild temperatures and almost no wind. Twenty eight riders signed in, but some late arrivals who didn’t sign in made the total well over 30. This is the largest number Jeffrey and I have seen in more than 14 years of leading biking and birding rides. Most birder/riders were members of either Audubon or GPC with a lot of overlap. A few of us arrived by auto, but most arrived by bike from nearby communities –a “green” field trip by Golden Gate Audubon standards!

We started at Aquatic Park, traveled south to Emeryville, and then north to the Albany Bulb mudflats; we had planned to go to Richmond, but the very large train of birding cyclists was too slow. The tide was higher than ideal for made mudflat birding, and we did miss several expected shorebirds. But the viewing at the Emeryville roost was spectacular–more than 1000 Marbled Godwits, with several Willets and a few Whimbrels, Surfbirds and Black Turnstones mixed in.

My favorite birding highlights happened before we even left Aquatic Park. Annie Armstrong, managing the scope, spotted a Bonaparte’s Gull on the water, and then we saw a few more in the air feeding with their buoyant tern-like flight over the lagoon. We also saw two Black-crowned Night Herons hunting (rather than just perched in the reeds). One of these was a striped juvenile feeding right next to to the Bay Trail near the bike bridge. Surfbirds mixed in with the Black Turnstones on the Emeryville Shoreline were new to many, and several expressed delight at the Sanderlings running at the edge of the water, and then perched right next to the trail. The ‘returning’ Eurasian Wigeon was present with the American Wigeons at the Albany mudflats. We saw a total of 40 species, plus 4 additional taxa in e-bird parlance.

As we were leaving Aquatic Park, we met Rusty Scalf, who told us about a Monarch Butterfly roost at the south end of the park. We couldn’t turn the large train around, but we planned to go back at the end. By the end, nearly all of participants and one of the leaders had dispersed on their bikes. Only Annie and I returned to Aquatic Park to enjoy seeing many Monarchs fluttering around and landing in the upper foliage of the eucalyptus trees.

North Beach, Telegraph Hill
November 8, 2015
Leader(s): Carlo Arreglo
# of participants: n/r
# of species: 29The day started off with rain but it turned out to be quite birdy. Many participants were new birders and they were treated to close views of Yellow-rumped Warblers in the bottlebrush tree at the top if the Filbert Steps (east side of the hill). We went down to Pier 23 and despite the presence of a “Princess”; ship, we got good views of a Brandt’s Cormorant and Mew Gull for comparisons. The best birds were 3 southeast bound Great Egrets flying high. That was a good lesson for everyone to always look at the distant birds because they may just turn into something else.
Thanks to Jon Sieker, Lee Guichan, and Paul Weaver for helping lead the unexpectedly larger group.
Point Isabel Regional Shoreline
November 13, 2015
Leader(s): Alan Kaplan
# of participants: 45
# of species: 59We walked along Point Isabel Regional Shoreline to S. 51st Street and Meeker Slough.We had 45 observers, including distinguished visitor Denise Wight, who added her expertise in sounds and songs (and mnemonics for them). We had a shorebird theme, and there were lots of ‘scopes and cameras.You can “genderize” your adult Black Oystercatcher sightings: females have flecks in the black center of their eyes (irides), giving an irregular shape to the iris. Sibley’s Second edition does not call this out. See “Secrets in the Eyes of Black Oystercatchers”, Journal of Field Ornithology, 79(2): 215-223, 2008, by Guzzetti et al.Birds o’ the Day were Say’s Phoebe, American Pipit, Wilson’s Snipe, and my FOS Dunlin!Tilden Nature Area
November 6, 2015
Leader(s): Alan Kaplan
# of participants: 50
# of species: 35A real MoB (many observers) of birders turned out for Red Crossbills (Western Hemlock- Type 3) but we dipped! For more than you want to know about crossbills, Dr. Craig Benkman at University of Wyoming has all his publications available as downloadable PDFs. When I wrote him about the irruption of Red Crossbills in Tilden Park, he knew exactly where I meant, writing back that he was an undergraduate at UC Berkeley in the 1980s!There were about 40 Pine Siskins in the coast redwood where both they and the crossbills were seen in the past weeks, but the crossbills did not appear today. We did have a Picidae Grand Slam (Nuttall’s and Acorn Woodpeckers, Northern Flicker and Red-breasted Sapsucker).We talked about “Pete Dunne on Bird Watching”, now out in a second edition, with advice on bird feeding, nest boxes, binocular and spotting scope purchase, use and care tips. Thanks to all who brought “big guns and big Canons” today which gave us great views of everything we saw (but not the Red Crossbills we sought).
Lake Merritt
October 28, 2015
Leader(s): Hilary Powers and Ruth Tobey
# of participants: 14
# of species:  48

The species count for our monthly trip jumped all the way to 48, including Lesser Scaup, Bufflehead  and Canvasbacks (two sand-colored females) – all rarely seen this early in the season. The Greater Scaup and Ruddy Ducks were both on the lake for the first time this year, in substantial numbers, joining the hordes of American Coots, Pied-billed Grebes, and Canada Geese who’d been around for a while.The Double-crested Cormorants had almost entirely moved out of the trees, but filled the floats – neatly spaced a wingspan apart with almost mechanical precision. Assorted gulls and crows were picking through the branches for tidbits left behind, and at the very top of one of the trees, a Great Blue Heron crouched in a nest as though checking out the real estate. That was the only GBH, but we saw a lot of egrets – both Snowy and (less commonly, these days) Great, along with several Black-crowned Night-Herons and two Green Herons.

A big flock of Pine Siskins – the first of these goldfinch-relatives ever seen on the 4th-Wednesday walk – cycled through the treetops around the garden. Lower in the trees (and on the fences, and on the ground) we had bunches of Yellow-rumped Warblers demonstrating why they’re the most common warbler hereabouts: unlike other warblers, which tend to specialize on one sort of diet or another, your butter-butt will eat pretty much anything it can get its beak around in any part of its environment. They were joined by White-crowned Sparrows in slightly less large bunches, plus a couple of Golden-crown Sparrows and a burglar-masked Townsend’s Warbler. Among the bushes, we were treated to the sight of a single Bewick’s Wren flashing its white eyebrow, and an unusual lone Dark-eyed Junco – no telling where the rest of the flock had gotten to. And of course there were crows, lots and lots of crows carpeting the lawns and racketing around the treetops, harassing a Cooper’s Hawk and otherwise amusing themselves.

All told, it was a pretty, pretty day, despite (or perhaps because of) a few drops of much-needed rain, well up to the standard at Lake Merritt, where every day is a good day.

Fort Mason
October 18, 2015
Leader(s): David Assmann
# of participants: n/r
# of species: 58

We saw seven species of warbler this morning, with some participants getting a very brief look at the CANADA WARBLER at the driveway just before the Haskall House. A NASHVILLE WARBLER was much more cooperative.  We also tallied a BLACK-THROATED GRAY WARBLER, two YELLOW WARBLERS, and an ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER, as well as the expected TOWNSEND’S and YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLERS.  We got stunning views of the WANDERING TATTLER on a ledge at the edge of Aquatic Park, with the bird foraging less than eight feet away from us https://www.flickr.com/photos/davidasf/22101351969/in/dateposted-public/.  Two GREAT HORNED OWLS were perched in a palm tree behind the General’s House, with one actually on the side of the trunk of the palm.  A PACIFIC LOON was in Aquatic Park, a LINCOLN’S SPARROW was in the garden, and a WESTERN MEADOWLARK was in front of the hostel.

Aquatic Park
October 17, 2015
Leader(s): Carlo Arreglo
# of participants: n/r
# of species: n/r

Weather was partly to mostly cloudy, calm, and cool for the walk. Participants included a researcher from Spain who heard about the walk through Meet-up and was excited about western North American species. We started at Hyde Street Pier, walked through Victorian Park, paying lots of attention to White-crowned Sparrow vocalizations and the different plumages of Western Gulls on Aquatic Park beach.

I couldn’t resist suggesting a walk up the stairs to Fort Mason to look for the Canada Warbler. Our small group was game and other birders already on the scene by the Hasklell House, they were treated to lifer views of Hermit Thrush, CA Towhee, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Black-throated Gray Warbler, Nashville Warbler, and Canada Warbler. During our viewing period, the Canada Warbler stuck close to an overhanging shrub next to that barrier bush that lines Fort Mason road. Thanks to Greg and Lee for alerting us and getting the GGAS group on the bird! There was also a loon out in Aquatic Park. Thought maybe a Pacific but more likely to be a Common. Will have to look at photos later today.

Brooks Island Boat Trip
October 11, 2015
Leader(s): Anthony Fisher (East Bay Regional Parks Ranger)
# of participants:
# of species: 48

We don’t normally write blog posts about field trips… but a trip to Brooks Island is not a normal trip.

Brooks Island Regional Preserve, a 373-acre island off the Richmond shoreline owned by the East Bay Regional Park District, is not usually open to the public. You need to visit as part of a guided kayak or boat tour. The very shallow waters and dramatic tide changes make access tricky. There are only a handful of boat tours each year — and we were fortunate to be able to reserve one for Golden Gate Audubon members and friends this past weekend.

Big thanks to East Bay Parks and Dolphin Charters for making this trip not just possible but delightful!

The bay was uncommonly calm and glassy when we departed from the Berkeley Marina on Dolphin Charters’ comfortable and steady River Dolphin. We passed herons and cormorants at the marina, grebes and gulls on the open bay, and — sadly — both dead and living Common Murres. The murres have been struggling this year, most likely due to warmer ocean waters that reduced their food sources. Many have washed up dead or sick on Northern California beaches. They are birds of the open ocean, not normally found within the waters of San Francisco Bay. So seeing even the live ones here was worrisome.

We circled around Brooks Island’s long breakwater, built originally to protect the port of Richmond. The roots of the island’s name are unknown: It was noted as Brooks Island in the mid-1800s, and before that the Spanish called it Isla de Carmen. At various points it was used for sheep and cattle grazing, oyster farming, and quarrying. Before East Bay Park bought it in 1968, it was operated as a private hunting club for celebrities including Bing Crosby, with game species like pheasant imported for their shooting pleasure.

As we approached the island, we sighted an Osprey devouring a fish on a wooden pier! Also a pair of Surf Scoters, even though it is early in the season for these winter visitors.

Because the water around the island is so shallow, visits need to be planned for high tide. And even at high tide, we needed to climb into a Zodiac skiff in shifts to reach the land.

Once on the island, we were greeted by caretaker Matt Allen, who gave us a snapshot of what it is like to be the solo resident of a deserted island (albeit a deserted island within a ten minute boat ride of the Richmond Costco).

Matt, a former motorcycle mechanic, has lived on the island for over four years. He lives comfortably off the grid with solar power, a battery bank, a backup generator, a composting toilet, and a propane cooking stove. One of the three springs on the island feeds a well that provides water, but he also brings in bottled water from the mainland.

The caretaker’s job largely involves keeping the island secure from unauthorized visitors who could vandalize it or harm the wildlife (18 species of nesting birds). Being the lone caretaker can take an emotional toll: The previous caretaker became, shall we say, unstable after eight years and had to be forcibly removed.

So far, Matt seems happily unfazed. The biggest challenge, he said, is dealing with access and the tides. When the tide goes out, deep water can be as far as 500 feet from the dock. “If I want to get off the island or come home when the tide is out, I have to push my boat in the mud,” he said.

East Bay Parks naturalist Anthony Fisher then led us on a walk around the island. In spring, it’s blanketed with wildflowers. In fall, everything is a duller brown. But the views of the bay were magnificent. We were shown some fascinating local plants, including one which the native people made into brushes with a remarkable resemblance to shaving brushes. (If someone remembers the name, let me know!)

And while this was not  nesting season, there was still enough bird life to keep us busy, including Western Meadowlark, Say’s Phoebe, White-tailed Kite, Spotted Sandpiper, and Cooper’s Hawk.

The wind picked up in the afternoon, as it often does on the bay, and our boat ride home was choppier. We arrived back at the Berkeley Marina just in time to glimpse a distinctive non-avian species maneuvering in the air — the Blue Angels, part of San Francisco Fleet Week.

It was altogether a lovely day on the island and the water.  It whetted our appetites to see Brooks Island in its wildflower season. Hmm… does that mean we should try to book another trip for the spring? Leave a comment or email us at idebare@goldengateaudubon.org if you would be interested in a spring Brooks Island trip.

Inspiration Point/ Nimitz Way Tilden Regional Park
October 9, 2015
Leader(s): Alan Kaplan
# of participants: 30
# of species: 34

Bird o’ the Day right at the start: Lark Sparrow. Birders o’ the Day at the finish: Pat and Phil Gordon with their Castro Valley adult class.

Phil introduced us to the term “Great Grand Slam” for five-of-a-kind (we had 5 Picidae: Northern Flicker, and Downy, Hairy, Nuttall’s and Acorn Woodpeckers).

Really good look at juvenile Cooper’s Hawk on a power tower. Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly was seen, too.  Thanks to Christine, Jim A. and the others who brought scopes, and to Isaac for the nice confirmation photos of the Ruby-crowned Kinglet on fennel. Thanks to our Meet-up members and all the  participants (and of course the birds!) we had a great time!

Chain of Lakes, San Francisco
October 4, 2015
Leader(s): Mitch Youngman, Bonnie Brown
# of participants: 8
# of species: 40

It was a perfect birding morning, near 70 degrees, sunny with no wind.  We saw a good selection of warblers:  Yellow-rumped, Townsend’s, Wilson’s, Orange Crowned and Yellow.  Also, several Western Tanagers and a group of about 20 Cedar Waxwings.  Other good birds included Pacific Wren, Brown Creeper and a juvenile green Heron at South Lake.

Tilden Nature Area
October 2, 2015
Leader(s): Alan Kaplan
# of participants: 38
# of species: 38

Bob Lewis joined us today, from the GGAS Board. We got him his First of Season (FOS) Ruby-crowned Kinglet. Thanks to our Meet-up members too!

Our theme was migrants: arrivals and departures.

Hermit Thrushes have arrived, perhaps from Alaska and British Columbia. Our wintering Townsend’s Warblers have come from the Queen Charlotte Islands and possibly Vancouver Island as well.

Fox Sparrows have arrived from the north shore of Yukutat Bay in Alaska to spend the winter here (subspecies “annectans” of the Sooty Fox Sparrow/unalaschensis group). See the Birds of North America: Fox Sparrow account for the amazing story of this group’s other members who migrate overwater from Alaska- a very lengthy trip for a landbird !

Western Wood-pewee’s are on their way to Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia (many have just left British Columbia the last week of September so we may see them on their journey south). Pacific-coast Flycatchers are going to Pacific Coastal Mexico.

Warbling Vireos will have left the US by the end of this month (October), and ours will stop in Sonora and Chihuahua, Mexico for a PreBasic Molt before moving on to elsewhere in Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras. Our Wilson’s Warblers (subspecies chryseola) winter in western Mexico (Baja, southern Sonora) and on to western Panama.

Welcome, and Safe Journey to our winged friends!

Birds ‘o The Day were Bob’s Ruby-crowned Kinglet and the Fox Sparrow (thanks to Isaac for a very nice photo of it)!

Lake Merritt
September 23, 2015
Leader(s): Hilary Powers and Ruth Tobey
# of participants: 15
# of species:  35
The first fall migrants were back at the lake, though the main influx of ducks hadn’t started. American Coots were out in force, back from their local breeding ponds and rivaling the departing Double-crested Cormorants for numbers, and the flotilla of Pied-billed Grebes had a couple of early-arriving Eared Grebes for competition. Many cormorants were still on the nests in the trees, but it looked like almost all were late fledglings sticking around the home place and trying to ignore the Western Gulls hanging about the nests and looking for what they could scavenge. Many of the fledglings have left already, and we saw one on its way out: high in the sky over Children’s Fairyland, what looked like a soaring hawk turned out to be a juvenile cormorant circling for altitude, apparently looking over the world for a new home. (Only the second time we’ve seen this, but it’s startling: absolutely different from the cormorants’ usual businesslike here-to-there flight patterns.)A passing stroller stopped to ask what kind of bird looked like a pelican, only black. “Black?” says I; “Really really black? Or sort of dark dusty brown?” “I’m male,” the stroller replied, “so my color sense is deficient. I thought it was black, with a sort of white belly.” I explained that it was most likely a juvenile Brown Pelican, as they’re a uniform dust-color except for the pale belly, and added that if it was a true glossy black like a cormorant, it would be an astonishing rare-bird sighting as nothing with a pelican’s bill should be that color. Later we found what was probably the very bird, on the dock near the beach behind Children’s Fairyland: a juvenile pelican facing away from us, in light that did make the head and neck look unusually dark – but not black to a female eye. It had several white-headed adults for company, clustered together and far from the American White Pelicans hanging out with Hank-the-rescue-bird in the paddock by the nature center.Over in the park we were treated to some unusually lovely views of Western Bluebirds (new residents, seen here first in 2013), plus first-of-season peeks at a Warbling Vireo  and Ruby-crowned Kinglet.  A Western Scrub Jay surveyed the garden from the top of a dying pine tree, and a Bewick’s Wren displayed its curved beak, perky tail, and bright white eyebrow over by one of the gates to the bowling green – an unusual spot to see it.The species count was a respectable 35, and the group — including many from the GGAS MeetUp page – had the usual good day at Lake Merritt, where every day..
Fort Mason
September 20, 2015
Leader(s): David Assmann, John Colbert, Erica Rutherford
# of participants: 50
# of species: 53
Good showing of birds, both resident and migrants at Fort Mason.  The continuing DICKCISSELS were the most sought after of all the species, but they put in short appearances, mainly due to the two COOPER’S HAWKS constantly hunting in the garden. 4 warbler species, with at least 19 YELLOW WARBLERS, as well as TOWNSEND’S, ORANGE-CROWNED and WILSON’S WARBLERS.  There were at least five BLACK-HEADED GROSBEAKS and 3 WARBLING VIREOS. At least 15 WESTERN TANAGERS passed through. 8 Sparrow species were seen, including a LARK SPARROW, a CHIPPING SPARROW, three or more FOX SPARROWS, and a SAVANNAH SPARROW. There were five flycatchers, including a SAY’S PHOEBE, a WESTERN WOOD-PEWEE, several PACIFIC-SLOPE FLYCATCHERS, and two WILLOW FLYCATCHER.  The first RED-BREASTED SAPSUCKER for the season was found in the Battery. A WANDERING TATTLER was foraging on the rocks in Aquatic Park. A GREAT HORNED OWL preened in a palm tree behind the General’s House.
Aquatic Park, San Francisco
September 19, 2015
Leader(s): Carlo Arreglo
# of participants: n/r
# of species: 28
This morning, among the participants were an ornithologist from Switzerland (birding CA for the first time) and a beginning birder family with a 4th grader!  By the end of the walk, the dad was super-excited about IDing his first bird, an Elegant Tern. Conditions were sunny, warm, and calm.We started at 8:30am and I had high hopes of getting to the Fort Mason hillside quickly but sometimes you have to go with the flow with new birders and we spent a long time looking at a Heermann’s Gull on the beach and Elegant Terns diving into the water.
At the hillside, we got on birds that were lifers for most everyone: Pacific-slope Flycatcher, Yellow Warbler, Wilson’s Warbler, Townsend’s Warbler, Black Phoebe. One medium-sized chunky, white bird flew from one eucalyptus tree to another by the General’s House and I suspect  it was either a Barn Owl or an adult Black-crowned Night Heron.At Hyde Street Pier, we had amazing looks at a very close juvenile Black-crowned Night Heron that was perched on a Eureka mooring line. From the Balclutha poop deck and wheel, we scanned the seawall and had some nice comparisons between an Elegant Tern and the comparatively massive Western Gull next to it. 1 live juvenile Common Murre was present. 1 dead juvenile Common Murre was handed to me by a California Coastal Cleanup Day volunteer later that morning.   The ornithologist is flying out tomorrow and I told her about the recent sightings at Fort Mason. I hope she makes it! All in all, a fantastic walk for some new birders and a busy day with the beach cleanup, kayakers, and swimmers  at SF Maritime National Historical Park!
Vollmer Peak, Tilden Park
September 11, 2015
Leader(s): Alan Kaplan
# of participants: 37
# of species: 24
Our group included birders from Miami, Nevada City, Martinez, and return visitors Andy and Dorothy from Hamilton, ONT, Canada. GGAS Birds and Bikes leader Jeffrey Black attended, too. Thanks to the Meet-up members who attended, also.Augustus Vollmer was on the first Board of Directors of the East Bay Regional Park District, and was Berkeley’s first police chief. More information about him can be found in David Weinstein’s It Came from Berkeley.Today’s walk was rich with nuthatches (Pygmy and Red-breasted). But “Bird” o’ the Day was a large tarantula “hawk” (Pepsis wasp), which flew past everyone at eye level, its orange wings against the blue-metal body proclaiming “Do NOT mess with me!” It rates a “4” on the Justin Schmidt Sting Pain Index (the top of the 0 to 4 scale).This is also a reliable spot for California Thrasher, and is good for Spotted Towhee and Wrentit.  We found one Western Tanager.
Tilden Regional Park Nature Area
September 4, 2015
Leader(s): Alan Kaplan
# of participants: 34
# of species: 33

“Thank you” to the 34 birders, some from our Meet-up group and some for the very first time birding! Visitors from Sunol and Bakersfield, too!We had a corvid grand slam (Steller’s Jay, Western Scrub Jay, American Crow, Common Raven), and a trio of woodpeckers (Nuttall’s, Downy and Hairy).  We found three Warblers (Orange-crowned, Black-throated Gray and Townsend’s) and Hutton’s and Warbling Vireos.  We also saw lots of Umber Skippers and a Western Tiger Swallowtail butterfly at the Jewel Lake Dam.Our theme today was Insect and Bird Interactions.

We talked about co-extinction of hosts and their lice parasites, documented for the Huia of New Zealand, implied for California Condor (though no one has looked at the Andean Condor to see if they have the same lice that were totally removed from the CA condors when they were brought in from the wild), and refuted for the Passenger Pigeon louse, the classic example of co-extinction, which has been found on Band-tailed Pigeons in our day.

Giant Cowbird nestlings in the nests of Oropendolas in Panama are helpful because they eat the larvae (maggots) of a Philornis fly that lives on the Oropendola nestlings.

Oxpeckers feed on already engorged ticks (which are not insects) on their African mammal hosts, keep scabs open so blood flows, and generally do a worse job of grooming than the hosts do themselves. But they remove a lot of earwax, so are still beneficial. There are photos on the Internet of Black-billed Magpies grooming big mammals in the Denver Zoo!

Only 50% of California Monarch butterflies are protected after feeding as caterpillars on milkweeds because many milkweeds have little or no cardenolide poisons to transfer to the larva or adult Monarch. In the Mexican Oyamel Fir forests in Michoacan state, millions of Monarchs are eaten by Black-backed Orioles and Black-headed Grosbeaks; these butterflies are from east of the Rockies, and many more of them have the poisons, which cause a toxicosis that the birds “shake off” during a period of fasting after bingeing on butterflies; when recovered after a few days, the birds eat Monarchs again.
In Africa, birds can tell the difference (using the plant’s shape) between species of milkweed that are more poisonous (and so more likely to have a poisonous milkweed butterfly larva) and less poisonous (so they eat butterfly larvae on those plants).

Lake Merritt
August 26, 2015
Leader(s): Hilary Powers and Ruth Tobey
# of participants:10
# of species:  28

The islands and the bird paddock beach were starred with white for our walk this morning. Great and Snowy Egrets crowded the lower trees and bush tops on the islands – more of them than in almost a decade – and several young juvenile snowies flew in to the paddock beach while we watched. They looked really tiny among the flock of American White Pelicans who’d dropped in to visit Hank-the-Rescue-Bird – numbering at least 14, and probably more, given the way they kept flying in and wandering out of sight into the bushes.The Pied-billed Grebes are back for real – a big flock, looking very scruffy at the end of the breeding season – competing with the mallard drakes in eclipse plumage for most-disreputable-bird-on-the-lake status. The heron inventory was the full five: Black-crowned Night-Herons, both egrets, a juvenile Green Heron, and a lordly Great Blue Heron who flew practically overhead.

Over in the garden, we found the “magic tree” – the one currently being visited by one of the mixed flocks that patrol the woods – and saw Chestnut-backed Chickadees cavorting up and down its trunk, joined by an Oak Titmouse, a pair of Bewick’s Wrens singing and showing off their white eyebrows, a male Nuttall’s Woodpecker, a Western Scrub Jay, and something none of us could name: a warbler-type bird most notable for being absolutely featureless. It was slightly greenish yellow on the belly and throat and yellowish green on the wings and back, with no wing bars, eye stripe, or other markings at all – or at least none to be picked out in a series of quick looks.

As expected for August, the number of species was very low – only 28 different kinds of birds. But such birds! Any day when a wren lands within 10 feet of your head is a good day, not that there’s ever a day at Lake Merritt that isn’t….

Abbott’s Lagoon
August 22, 2015
Leader(s): Martha Wessitsh
# of participants: 11
# of species:  35

The day was a great day for raptors (Turkey Vulture, Osprey, White-tailed Kite, Northern Harrier, Red-tailed Hawk, Ferruginous Hawk, American Kestrel) and swallows (Tree, Violet-green, Northern Rough-winged, Barn).  Other good birds included California Quail, Wild Turkeys, Caspian Tern and Common Yellowthroat.

Corona Heights, Buena Vista Park
August 21, 2015
Leader(s): Brian Fitch
# of participants: n/r
# of species: 36

Today’s walk on Corona was well attended by birders, but not by birds.  Only Anna’s Hummingbirds were at normal levels of occurrence, and even White-crowned Sparrows and juncos were sparse.  A few attendees suspected the dry conditions to be at fault, and the hill certainly is the driest I’ve ever seen it, as the fog level hasn’t dropped onto it in many weeks.

We eventually truncated our usual route and a handful of us went over to Buena Vista Park, where migrants and residents were much better represented.  Best species were the Cedar Waxwings flying by Corona 2-3 weeks earlier than normal, and the Blue-gray Gnatcatcher that Stephen B. tuned in to at Buena Vista.

Hayward Shoreline
August 16, 2015
Leader(s): Steve and Carol Lombardi
# of participants: 15
# of species: 39

15 sharp-eyed birders braved Sunday’s heat to walk from Grant Ave. to Winton Ave. on the Hayward Shoreline.  Highlights were 25 Ruddy Turnstones – several on the sewage outlet pipe near Grant Ave. and the others at Frank’s. Also, 3 Red Knots hunkered down at Frank’s. Thanks to Johan for finding the Knots and thanks to Robert for compiling the list, and thanks to everyone for good spotting and enthusiasm.

Fort Mason
August 16, 2015
Leader(s): David Assmann, John Colbert, Erica Rutherford
# of participants: 20+
# of species: 52

We collectively saw 52 species, including many migrants. The best was probably the adult male AMERICAN REDSTART seen after the official end of the walk in the Battery. Two birders were fortunate enough to also see a juvenile male Redstart. At the very beginning of the morning, a NASHVILLE WARBLER was perched in a tree off the path leading down to Aquatic Park, close to where a WILSON’S WARBLER was seen later. Multiple bright YELLOW WARBLERS were seen (a minimum of 5). There were two Orioles – a HOODED ORIOLE, and one, perhaps two, BULLOCK’S ORIOLES. Flycatchers included an ASH-THROATED FLYCATCHER seen near Aquatic Park (another, or perhaps the same one, was seen in the Battery an hour later), a minimum of four PACIFIC SLOPE FLYCATCHERS, and 2 WESTERN WOOD PEWEES. Two VAUX’S SWIFTS flew over mid-morning. There were at least five BLACK-HEADED GROSBEAKS, seen frequently throughout the morning in the Battery and lower down towards Aquatic Park. Two GREAT HORNED OWLS were in a palm tree behind the General’s House. WESTERN TANAGERS (many were adult males) were almost always in view in the Battery (my estimate of 10 is undoubtedly an undercount).

Point Isabel Regional Shoreline 
August 14, 2015
Leader(s): Alan Kaplan
# of participants: n/r
# of species: 28

One Whimbrel, one Long-billed Curlew, seven members of our Meet-up Group! Birds O’the Day: Wilson’s Phalarope and fledgling Common Murre (thanks, Dave Quady for finding the former and Id’ing the latter). Visitor of the Day was Gerhard H. from Linz, Austria!

Good views of worn-plumage Short-billed and Long-billed Dowitchers as illustrated by Sibley in the second edition of his big book.

We started with eBird data about where the birds that are not at Point Isabel this week still are:

The nearest American Wigeon is up at Willows, CA. Northern Shovelers are in the High Mountain West. Nome and St. Paul Island in the Bering Sea (AK) have the Northern Pintails, Green-winged Teal and Dunlin. Common Goldeneyes are in central southern Alaska and strung across the US/Canada border from the Pacific to Nova Scotia, as if waiting for passport control to admit them! Ditto for Horned Grebes, from WA to MN. Mew Gulls are in Alaska (Nome, Kodiak Island, south central Alaska, Juneau, Skagway) and near Vancouver, BC.

Thanks to all who brought spotting scopes today! If anyone Id’ed the strange object at Lime Point (northern foot of the Golden Gate Bridge) please let me know! Thanks!

Tilden Regional Park Nature Area
August 7, 2015
Leader(s): Alan Kaplan
# of participants: 29
# of species: 22

Our theme was Breeding Bird Atlases. Monterey County was the first county atlas in California, in 1993, and the second county in the country (first was Los Alamos, NM the year before). The first state atlas was Massachusetts (the atlas period was 1974-1979 and one of our birders today, Kathe R., worked on that atlas!). Massachusetts has recently completed their second atlas, and as befits the 21st century, it is available as an e-book or print-on-demand paperback. Other Bay Area atlases are the recently sold-out Solano County atlas from Napa-Solano Audubon (2014), Alameda County (2011), Contra Costa County (2009) and Santa Clara County (2007). The San Francisco County atlas is in draft and on-line only, but is worth seeking out for Harry Fuller’s comprehensive essay on the natural history of San Francisco. The Marin County atlas (1993) efforts were begun by Bob Stewart in 1976, which makes it the first to be started in the West, and in California, but it stalled in 1979, was picked up again in 1982, and then published in 1993. It features a detailed ecological analysis of birds by habitat. Sonoma County’s atlas (1995) features the illustrations from Ralph Hoffman’s Birds of the Pacific States (1927) by Major Allan Brooks. Rounding out the local atlases: San Mateo’s (2001) is only maps and data, without species accounts, and Santa Cruz’s, though completed in 1992, is not available yet.
Heron’s Head Park
August 2, 2015
Leader(s): Eddie Bartley,  Noreen Wedeen
# of participants: 45
# of species: 19

It was a windy afternoon.  We did not get a great variety of different species, but had a decent group of shorebirds including Long-billed Curlew, Marbled Godwit, Black-bellied Plover, Spotted Sandpiper, American Avocet, Black-necked Stilt.  Also Osprey and Belted Kingfisher.

Golden Gate Park Strybing Arboretum
August 2, 2015
Leader(s): Kimberly Jannarone
# of participants: 10
# of species: n/r

I led a group for the Audubon Walk at Golden Gate Park this morning. A warm, damp, beautiful morning with lots of great birds.

Our entire group got to observe the adult male INDIGO BUNTING in the same area as it was reported yesterday. It perched in a low bush and we observed it shelling seeds from some tall grasses. Lee Hong-Chang spotted it first and took a picture of it.

An adult male GOLDEN-CROWNED KINGLET was foraging near a mixed flock in a bare tree above the little reservoir.

The soundtrack for the day was RED-SHOULDERED HAWK: we saw at least two juveniles, and I don’t think there was more than 5 minutes the whole three hours in which we didn’t hear one calling.

One HOODED ORIOLE and two WESTERN TANAGERS popped up near the main entrance. One juvenile WHITE-CROWNED SPARROW was by the Children’s Garden. One HAIRY, two DOWNY, and one NUTTALL’s WOODPECKERS were present.

A small flock of BAND-TAILED PIGEONS flew over around 9:30. Four CASPIAN TERNS flew over, heading West.

I heard one quail calling from the demonstration gardens: “ChiCAgo!”

Lots of great sightings of juveniles, parents feeding fledglings, and all sorts of late-summer behavioral joys. Thanks to everyone on this trip for the great spotting and good company. And for making my last walk for a year a memorable one. Somebody please bird Buena Vista Park while I’m on the east coast, and keep me updated on the goings-on.

Hayward Regional Shoreline
July 31, 2015
Leader(s): Juan-Carlos Solis
# of participants: 32
# of species:  37We observed several species of shorebirds up close, including a flock of snowy plovers, two flocks of semipalmated plovers, western and least sandpipers and had great looks at a flock of whimbrels and long billed curlews feeding along with one lesser yellowlegs.  We spent a good portion of the trip comparing various sandpipers and plovers and observing their feeding behavior.  We had close looks of at least three black skimmers feeding along the tidal channels and Forster’s and least terns carrying fish and flying towards their colony.
Lake Merritt
July 22, 2015
Leader(s): Hilary Powers and Ruth Tobey
# of participants: 9
# of species:  29
We watched two adult raccoons work their way nonchalantly around the island nearest the nature center, pulling muscles and other eatables off the rocks along the edge of the water. A first – we knew the park houses a number of coons, but they’d never let themselves be seen in the open before. At one point, they crossed under a bush containing not one but three barely-fledged Green Herons, so young their heads were still fuzzy and their beaks a mottled orange. The coons didn’t look up and the herons didn’t look down, but a Snowy Egret swooped into the same bush, sending two of the herons flapping into the undergrowth and the third into the water (where it safely waded to shore).Both White Pelicans and Double-crested Cormorants were fishing in flotillas, while Caspian Terns cruised overhead and dive-bombed for breakfast. Meanwhile, a juvenile Belted Kingfisher  sat lookout on one of the old snags on the island – a surprise, as kingfishers rarely put in an appearance while the cormorants are nesting.Out by the lawn bowling not-very-greens, the crows were holding a convention, so we headed over there in hopes of finding some sort of raptor whose life they were making a misery. We arrived in time to see a Red-shouldered Hawk plunge out of the tree and barely miss a crow, which it proceeded to chase up into the branches – a pleasant reversal of the usual harassment pattern.A light day in terms of species count but no one on the walk felt short-changed. It was chilly and windy but still all in all a good day at Lake Merritt, where when you get right down to it, every day is a good day….
Fort Mason
July 19, 2015
Leader(s): David Assmann
# of participants: 18
# of species: 45
Two GREAT HORNED OWLS in a palm tree and a family of HOODED ORIOLES were the highlight for the  participants in today’s GGAS Field Trip at Fort Mason. It was hard to determine how many Orioles were actually at Fort Mason, but there were at least five. Three female/immature Orioles were in the garden, with two young males seen later outside the garden, and potential a sixth male Oriole in the battery.
Valle Vista Staging Area
July 10, 2015
Leader(s): Alan Kaplan
# of participants: n/r
# of species: 50
Golden Gate Audubon Society Second Friday Birdwalk, at Valle Vista Staging Area (EBMUD permit required) off Canyon Road in Moraga, a new location for me.Thank you very much to Steve and Carol Lombardi for advice and great help along the trail today! And to Christine S., Jim and others for the ‘scopes.Great views of California Thrasher, Ash-throated Flycatcher fledglings, and Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (our Birds O’ the Day) plus 5 species of swallow ! And singing Purple Finch was easy to see today. And a pair (M and F) of American Kestrel And Western Bluebird young in different stages of “bluing-up.” A great morning!  Thanks to our many Meet-up attendees, too.
Tilden Regional Park Nature Area
July 3, 2015
Leader(s): Alan Kaplan
# of participants: 50
# of species: 35
Our theme today was Goldfinches.  Thanks to the MoB (many observers- party of 50 !), including our growing Meet-up group, of enthusiastic birders.Birds O’ the Day were three: Green Heron at Jewel Lake, Red-shouldered Hawk in the eucalyptus near the Jewel Lake restroom, and Kingfisher in several places. We had great views of male American Goldfinch in breeding plumage, and brief look at male Lesser Goldfinch. Yesterday’s River Otter did not make an appearance, but there were still 10 ducklings with the Mallard female. Great Egret and Pacific Wren (singing) were other highlights.
 Lake Merritt
June 24, 2015
Leader(s): Hilary Powers and Ruth Tobey
# of participants: 10
# of species: 28
June was unsurprisingly very quiet in the Lake Merritt bird world – only 28 species – but nonetheless full of engaging sights: Green Herons fishing from the island rocks, Double-crested Cormorants and American White Pelicans fishing in flotillas along the lake, Snowy Egrets stalking the shallows looking for finny calories. Up in the trees, a young cormorant spent several minutes tickling a parent’s throat pouch before the parent gave in and went head down in the youngster’s gullet to regurgitate a late breakfast. Another cormorant flew proudly up out of the lake with a clump of seaweed the size of a softball – to do what? who knows? – and circled around to the trees.We did have one Pied-billed Grebe back early from the nesting season, still in the species’ subdued but elegant breeding plumage: black bib and bright black-striped white bill.
The other transients were mostly gone, however, including the usually ubiquitous black American Coots. Even the Canada Geese were – well, not missing, but not as numerous as expected; we saw only a few hundred waddling around, comically naked in the wing-feather department and many tail-less as well.Over in the park and garden we had most of the usual treats – Chestnut-backed Chickadees (our local endemic species; bread-and-butter here but a target for birders from most other parts of the country) and California Towhees and House Finches (including one who was a very pale salmon gold where most of his fellows are bright crimson) and American Robins. Three kinds of swallows were dipping and skimming over the meadow: Tree and Violet-green and Northern Rough-winged. The garden had lots of hummingbirds and goldfinches, but we missed out on our usual Bewick’s Wren sighting; the workers had a weed-whacker running in the likeliest spot, and none showed up elsewhere.A pleasant stroll for all, including the handful of welcome guests from the Golden Gate Audubon MeetUp page who were so new to birding they didn’t bring binoculars – not nearly the problem on this walk as on many others, as so many of the birds are big and close, and also sit still long enough for clear views through  spotting scopes – and so yet another good day at Lake Merritt, where every day is a good day….
Fort Mason
June 21, 2015
Leader(s): David Assmann, Pamela Llewellyn
# of participants: 17
# of species: 42
We collectively saw 41 species, pretty much entirely expected species. Prior to the start of the walk there was a PEREGRINE FALCON sitting on a flag pole south of Aquatic Park. At the beginning of the walk, In the garden an ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER was on the ground with a green caterpillar in its mouth. A WILSON’S WARBLER was flying in a tree with a number of AMERICAN GOLDFINCHES right behind it. No sign of the Gannet.  Walking down to Aquatic Park, there was a RED-TAILED HAWK perched in a tree overlooking the water, within line of sight of a WESTERN GULL nest on a pole.  The nest had one newly hatched Gull. SURF SCOTERS continue to use a floating dock as a resting spot (there have been three there). A young BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT HERON was on the rocks at the beginning and end of the morning. Still many young PYGMY NUTHATCHES, HOUSE FINCHES, WHITE-CROWNED SPARROWS and SONG SPARROWS around Fort Mason.  The young nuthatches have a pink belly. An adult COOPER’S HAWK was perched close to a nest behind the General’s House. After most participants had left, a HOODED ORIOLE flew into the garden. A few species were conspicuous by their absence – not a single Robin, only one Starling and no Western Scrub Jay.
Point Reyes National Seashore 
June 14, 2015
Leader(s): Emilie Strauss
# of participants: 19
# of species: 41
Although no purple martins were observed, we had a nice walk on the Earthquake Trail and Kule Luklo while being serenaded by Swainson’s thrush, Wilson’s warblers, and other songsters. One of the highlights was watching a song sparrow gobble scarlet fruit from a red elderberry. After gobbling our own lunch, we visited the Neubucker wetlands where we added white-tailed kite and several swallow species to our list.
Tennessee Hollow, Presidio, San Francisco
June 13, 2015
Leader(s): Juan-Carlos Solis
# of participants: 20
# of species: 36
Highlights were Allen’s Hummingbirds, Purple vs. House Finches (good views and song comparisons); serpentine grassland habitat and good diversity of birds. Dark eyed Junco was feeding young, California Towhee pair; Red-shouldered Hawk with prey. An unexpected bird was a pair of Blue-winged Teals in a pond.
Briones Regional Park
June 12, 2015
Leader(s): Alan Kaplan
# of participants: n/r
# of species: 35Meeting at the Bear Creek Staging Area entrance. Thanks to many who brought scopes and all who participated on a very hot morning. Lots of Ash-throated Flycatchers, Warbling Vireos, and juvenile Western Bluebirds with parents. Today was also the “4th of July” North America Butterfly Association/Xerces Society Butterfly Count in our area (Berkeley Count’s 41st year !). We had 9 species and 19 individuals.
Tilden Nature Area Evening Walk
June 10, 2015
Leader(s): Steve and Carol Lombardi
# of participants: 40
# of species: 26
Carol and I subbed for Rusty – who had a work commitment – on his Tilden evening bird walk last night (Wed, 6/10). The rain earlier in the day had stopped when we started about 7:30. 40 of us had a delightful walk along the moist, fragrant Jewel Lake trail.  Many Swainson’s Thrushes and lots of other birds were quite vocal starting as twilight fell starting about 7:45, with most birds falling silent by 8:30. For us leaders, one of the high points was having several children on the walk. Many of the participants got a kick out of seeing several turkeys roosting high in the pines near the start of the trail. To many of us, these enormous birds look incongruous perched on a branch.
San Francisco Botanical Garden
June 7, 2015
Leader(s): Kimberly Jannerone
# of participants: 10
# of species: n/rYesterday, I led an intrepid group of about 10 birders through a foggy, but song-filled, walk in the Arboretum. Highlights included one BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT HERON, decked out with white plumes, on the little fenced-in reservoir; two fledgling DOWNY WOODPECKERS preening by the succulent garden; one PEREGRINE FALCON that gave us not one but three views, including a fast flight away from us that turned into a stoop; one WESTERN WOOD-PEWEE foraging in the children’s garden; and two TREE SWALLOWS using a nest cavity in one of the agave stalks in the succulent garden.Three fledgling Ravens were charismatic but disheartening as they frolicked on the main lawn. Ditto some BROWN-HEADED COWBIRDS, whose song we heard constantly.Alan directed us to a lone WHITE-CROWNED SPARROW sitting on the totem pole and singing.One GROSBEAK perched high in a tree, completely backlit and in silhouette, making a repeated two-syllable call that none of us recognized. It had a light but distinct warm orange breast, dark gray back and head, white on the dark wings, and no visible streaking (but our views were bad). Could have been either an immature or female Rose or Black-headed.Tilden Regional Park Nature Area
June 5, 2015
Leader(s): Alan Kaplan
# of participants: 50
# of species: 39A MoB (many observers) of 50 came out for our Birding by Impression-themed bird walk today. Our text was the new Peterson Reference Guide: Birding by Impression: A Different Approach to Knowing and Identifying Birds, by Kevin Karlson and Dale Rouselet. Lots of new Meet-up birders attended today. Best birds were nesting House Wrens in an oak snag in the swale of the Jewel Lake nature trail just before the second wooden bridge, and a Green Heron at the lake itself.

Yosemite National Park
May 29-31, 2015
Leader(s): Dave Quady and Dave Cornman
# of participants: 20
# of species: 68

Twenty birders enjoyed plentiful bird song– but in a fire-scarred landscape – and wonderful weather on Golden Gate Audubon Society’s annual field trip to western Yosemite National Park. Two of our usual birding areas had been so badly burned that we forsook them in favor of unburned areas. Worst was the damage caused by 2013’s quarter-million acre Rim Fire, the third largest in the state’s recorded history. Then, on July 26, 2014 a fire that began near El Portal devastated the south-facing portion of the Merced River gorge as it swept upslope, destroyed two homes in Foresta, and burned nearly 5,000 acres, including about 1,000 acres in Yosemite itself. As a result of that fire, we missed seeing an American Dipper at Foresta Falls for the first time in memory.

Despite the loss of habitat, our ‘official’ list (of birds recorded by at least one leader and one participant) reached 68 species, only a bit lower than average. In addition participants reported a Williamson’s Sapsucker not seen well enough by any of the leaders. Unlike last year, no unusual species stood out this year (well, Peregrine Falcons were close . . .). But like last year, we enjoyed seeing the nests of several species, with that of a Lawrence’s Goldfinch pair squarely in the spotlight. Surely the bears were our mammalian highlights: one seen by all near Tamarack Flat, and two more (a huge blonde, and a shiny, well-stuffed cinnamon-brown) seen by some on Saturday.

Lake Merritt
May 27, 2015
Leader(s): Hilary Powers and Ruth Tobey
# of participants: 5
# of species: 32

The highlight of our walk was a mixed flock of juvenile Oak Titmice and Dark-eyed Juncos playing in and under the oaks near Children’s Fairyland, with an adult or two of each species looking on. We also saw half a dozen juvenile Canada Geese on the lawn between the playground and the maze: half the size of the adults and covered in gray-brown plush like so many goose-shaped teddy bears.

Less good news, unless you have a serious need for quills to practice your calligraphy: the molt migration has started. The Canada Goose population is on the rise, and the long flight feathers have begun to litter the ground; by late next month, it’ll practically be possible to cross the lawn without stepping off the back of a goose. As always happens around this time of year, the geese are swapping out their whole flight suits. Unlike most birds, they lose all their primary feathers at once and can’t fly for a few weeks, and so they need a safe place to hang out – and lots and lots and lots of them choose Lake Merritt, which offers lawns for grazing, the lake for retreat, and minimal harassment from dogs and people. There’s no way to stop it short of draining the lake and paving the meadow and turning it into a skateboard park, so grin and bear it. At least the geese are entertainingly funny-looking as the feathers grow in….

The lake itself was thin of company – besides the still-nesting Double-crested Cormorants (a few retaining their crests) it was mainly Canada Geese and Mallards and mutt ducks, though we did see one lone lorn American Coot. Hank the rescue pelican did have a couple of White Pelicans visiting him, and several Brown Pelicans were checking out the rocks on the new boathouse shoreline. Our local Forster’s Terns were out in good numbers, and one Caspian Tern flew back and forth over the lake near the islands.

All told, we saw 32 species of birds and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves despite cloudy skies and a shivering brisk wind, proving yet again that at Lake Merritt, every day is a good day….

Telegraph Hill
May 17, 2015
Leader(s): Carlo Arreglo (report by Michael Gertz)
# of participants: n/r
# of species: 30

We had a small group yesterday due to B2B and the Fort Mason walk going on at the same time, but had a fantastic time birding the hill!  Some highlights..

  • Singing WESTERN TANAGER near Coit Tower.
  • SWAINSON’S THRUSH also near Coit.
  • CASPIAN TERN flying over Fisherman’s Wharf
  • WHITE-THROATED SWIFTS and BARN SWALLOWS hawking around Greenwich steps.
  • A couple mixed flocks that yielded a YELLOW WARBLER and a few WILSON’S WARBLERS.
  • WESTERN SCRUB JAY feasting on bees at the local hive.
  • A few good looks at used ANNA’S HUMMINGBIRD nests.

We also found an awesome BUSHTIT nest hanging right over the Greenwich steps.

Fort Mason
May 17, 2015
Leader(s): David Assmann
# of participants: n/r
# of species: 52

Good influx of migrants at Fort Mason this morning for the GGAS monthly field trip.  A very cooperative OLIVE-SIDED FLYCATCHER perched at the top of several trees for multiple sightings.  YELLOW WARBLERS were seen throughout the morning, with a minimum of eight, mostly singing males in and around the Battery. Five were spotted in the Battery, one in the garden and two behind the General’s House. Two WILSON’S WARBLERS, one ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER and two BLACK-THROATED WARBLERS rounded out the warbler sightings for the morning.  At least two WARBLING VIREOS foraged around the battery.  A WESTERN TANAGER called from a tree. A SWAINSON’S THRUSH sang at the bottom of the steps.  The Gannet was not seen.  Best birds on the water were two COMMON LOONS, a SURF SCOTER and two CASPIAN TERNS.

Vollmer Peak Tilden Park
May 8, 2015
Leader(s): Alan Kaplan
# of participants: 47
# of species: 35

A real MoB (many observers) met at the Steam Trains to walk up the fire road to Vollmer Peak. Warbler Grand Slam!- Hermit, Wilson’s, Orange-crowned and Townsend’s! Nesting birds: Pygmy Nuthatch and Northern Flicker in the same snag on the peak! Lazuli Buntings singing, Olive-sided Flycatcher and Pacific-slope Flycatcher doing their best, and an amazing concert of two California Thrashers singing while a third watched! Thanks to Christine and Dan and Juan-Carlos for “big guns and big Canons” for observing the birds up close, and a warm welcome to our Meet-up group members.

Tilden Regional Park Nature Area
May 1, 2015
Leader(s): Alan Kaplan
# of participants: 27
# of species: 31

Golden Gate Audubon Society regular First Friday Birdwalk (following the Dawn Chorus special bird walk from 0530 to 0745hrs).

Our theme was how birds learn their songs. Send me an e-mail if you want the notes.

Tilden Regional Park Dawn Chorus
May 1, 2015
Leader(s): Alan Kaplan
# of participants: 16
# of species: 26

This was a First Friday SPECIAL Dawn Chorus Birdwalk. It was the Fourth Annual Dawn Chorus walk: this coming Sunday, May 3, 2015, is International Dawn Chorus Day (first Sunday in May each year).

Saturn in the west as we began at 0530hrs, meeting at the parking lot just south of Canon Drive, where it meets Central Park Drive, in Tilden Regional Park.

Our theme was the biology of the Dawn Chorus: males may be singing because it’s too dark to eat!; birds with bigger eyes start singing earlier; males may be singing to announce that they survived the night and are still on their territory and available as a mate; males may be trying to attract any females that arrived during the night. Females are evaluating males for length, intensity (energy) and variety of their song. Both males and females could be learning of territories that have become un-occupied (available).

Garin Regional Park
May 1, 2015
Leader(s): Anne Hoff
# of participants: 19
# of species: 47

Despite the heat (90+ degrees) by the time we finished, just after noon, we saw Bullock’s Orioles, Lazuli Bunting,   had great views of singing Wilson’s Warblers, nesting Tree Swallows, Western Bluebirds and Barn Swallows. Pacific slope Flycatchers and Warbling Vireos were vocalizing, also singing were Bewick’s Wren and Swainson’s Thrush.

Lake Merritt
April 22, 2015
Leader(s): Hilary Powers and Ruth Tobey
# of participants: 10
# of species: 39

The April walkers – including several from the new Meet-Up announcement – were treated to a spectacular display of Eared Grebes and Horned Grebes in near or full breeding plumage (both looking like jeweler’s work in copper and black silver and gold, with ruby eyes) fishing and preening and chasing each other about near the islands. See them soon; they’ll be off to the nesting grounds by the end of April!

The trees on the islands continue full of nesting Double-crested Cormorants, many still displaying their bunny-ear crests, though the bronze youngsters are starting to edge along the branches and think about chasing fish of their very own. We also saw several Forster’s Terns after the same fish, knifing into the water on pale wings or standing on the floats and showing off their natty black caps and red beaks and feet. And the resident Canada Geese had a couple of parties of egg-sized babies swimming and grazing along with them – half a dozen in one group and two or three in another – in an overflow of cuteness. (Come June and July, when the lawns fill up with geese, do not attribute it to reproductive success at the lake; if any of these babies survive it’ll be a surprise, but lots and lots and lots of their distant cousins and uncles and aunties will come to visit anyway because the lake is the safest place around when you have to replace all your flight feathers.)

Given how low the scaup population was all winter, the numbers remaining on the lake were surprising – both Greater and Lesser Scaup were out in substantial numbers, vigorously chowing down on the weeds and whatever else looked like providing calories for the impending trip north.

Over in Lakeside Park, the big treat was a catalpa tree full of black-masked Cedar Waxwings, closely followed by an unusually placid Bewick’s Wren hopping along the garden fence top and showing off its bright white eyebrow for all to see. But of course, this barely scratches the surface of the delights of yet another cloudy-but-lovely day at Lake Merritt, where every day has delights to share….

Photo Big Day Birdathon Trip
April 19, 2015
Leader(s): Glen Tepke
# of participants: 4
# of species: 89 (or 102)

As part of Golden Gate Audubon Society’s Birdathon, the Wren Wranglers – did a
spending 13+ hours roaming several sites in the East Bay in an attempt to photograph as many bird species as possible. We finished the day with 89 species photographed by at least one member of the team. Another 13 species were seen or heard, but not photographed, for a total of 102. A list of species is below.

Here is a collection of our photo highlights in chronological order. Note that my name is on each photo because this is my Flickr account, but most of the photos were taken by other team members. The photographer is listed in the title of each photo:

Photo Big Day Team by Glen Tepke

Please join me in supporting Golden Gate Audubon, the only environmental education and advocacy organization focused on the birds of San Francisco and the East Bay, by making a pledge in the name of the Wren Wranglers (a reference to all the time we spent trying to get photos of four wren species):

https://www.z2systems.com/np/clients/goldengateaudubon/campaign.jsp?campaign=416&fundraiser=110589578&

San Francisco Birdathon Walking Big Day
April 19, 2015
Leader(s): Alan Hopkins
# of participants: 2
# of species: 100

Today I did a walking big day and was joined for most of the day by Rob Cullison. We started at 6:15 and I ended at 7:30. There were very few migrants to be seen; it took me until 7:pm to find a Fox Sparrow! We missed many of the birds found by other folks but we finished with 100 species, our goal, in about 18 miles of walking. No fossil fuel used.

For a full report see this article from the San Francisco Chronicle:

http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Early-human-gets-the-birds-at-Audubon-Society-s-6212360.php

San Francisco Birdathon Big Day
April 18, 2015
Leader(s): Bob and Juli Toleno
# of participants: 5
# of species: 129

Juli and i led a small group of three other birders on a 14-hour-long big day in San Francisco yesterday to raise money for Golden Gate Audubon. It was our third year leading this big day and our most successful by all measures, in spite of the fact that we missed most of the significant SF migrants reported by others yesterday (we had zero Broad-winged Hawks). Our route was much the same as last year with just a few refinements, starting at the city’s central hilltops, heading north, then moving gradually around the perimeter, ending in the southeast corner.

The highlights from our day (in chronological order):

  • Rufous Hummingbird and a late-staying Varied Thrush on Mt. Davidson
    • California Quail calling by the handball courts in GG Park
    • Northern Shovelers, Great-tailed Grackle, and singing White-throated Sparrow at Stow   Lake
    • Black-throated Gray Warbler and a pair of Acorn Woodpeckers at an apparent nest hole in Lafayette Park
    • Merlin flyover at Fort Mason being pursued by a pair of hummingbirds
    • Wandering Tattlers, one on the old pier near Fort Mason and one at Sutro Baths
    • Western Kingbird pair hawking insects from the treetops at East Wash
    • Peregrine Falcon and Red Crossbills at Sutro Heights Park
    • Red-breasted Merganser (male in full breeding plumage) and Black Scoters at the end of Great Highway
    • Tropical Kingbird and Green Heron at Lake Merced concrete bridge
    • Short-billed Dowitchers and a late Western Meadowlark at Heron’s Head
    • Spotted Towhee on Bayview Hill

Our biggest misses of the day were Great Egret, Northern Flicker, vireos of any kind, Cliff Swallow, and Western Bluebird. We also missed Lazuli Bunting and Bullock’s Oriole, both of which we found on our scouting day Friday.
Total number of birds found in that 14-hour period: 129! A personal record for us in SF. We had a fantastic team supporting us. Big thanks to Matt Perry, Robert Clark, and Amanda Starbuck for their dedication, stamina, and spotting skills.

Western San Francisco Birdathon Trip
April 18, 2015
Leader(s): Dan Murphy
# of participants: 24
# of species: n/r

The Golden Gate Audubon Birdathon is well underway.  24 birders covered much of western SF for the first half of the annual Murphy’s MOb group.  We got most of our target birds and 2 very nice surprises.  First was an alternate plumage White-throated Sparrow at North Lake in Golden Gate Park.  Then at Lake Merced’s concrete bridge we spotted the continuing Tropical Kingbird and a Sora.

Fort Mason San Francisco
April 18, 2015
Leader(s): Carlo Arreglo
# of participants: n/r
# of species: 30

I subbed for the ranger that normally leads the monthly GGAS bird walk at San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park. Calm, sunny, and clear, with 5-10mph, generally westerly. 10:00am – noon. Lots of nice birds and would be hard pressed to pick a best bird. We saw a Varied Thrush and a Savannah Sparrow in the hillside underbrush by the Sea Scout Building. There was a Common Loon in striking alternate plumage and a Surf Scoter.

Observing a pair of Downy Woodpeckers eventually led us to a fresh nest cavity and I’ll be keeping my eye on that snag for fledges. A line of Double-crested Cormorants headed west, at minimum 500, and probably closer to 1000. Peregrine Falcon, Red-tailed Hawks, and Turkey Vultures. A sharp-eyed birder named Daniel found 2 Wandering Tattler and 1 Black Turnstone on the abandoned pier. In all, 30 species, which is pretty decent for SF Maritime.Thanks to the participants for a great walk on a beautiful day in the national parks!

Kensington Hilltop School Trail Birdathon Trip
April 10, 2015
Leader(s): Alan Kaplan
# of participants: 12
# of species: 29

This substituted for the usual Second Friday GGAS Birdwalk. We started at the Summit Reservoir, at the intersection of Spruce and Grizzly Peak, walked north to the stub end of Grizzly Peak Blvd, and walked north on “Ye Olde School Trail” to Kensington (Hilltop) School and back.

Best bird: Calliope Hummingbird!

Oakland Big Six Hours Birdathon Trip
April 5, 2015
Leader(s): Glen Tepke
# of participants: 8
# of species: 104

As part of the Golden Gate Audubon Society Birdathon, the Soggy Sloggers
did a whirlwind six-hour tour of six birding sites in or immediately adjacent to the city of
Oakland between 7:08 and 1:08 today, finishing the day with 104 species. Naturally, a few more species were seen/heard shortly before and after the count period. The rain (unexpectedly heavy at times), wind and cold certainly cost us some species, but didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of the team. Some of our favorite birds of the day included:

Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve – WHITE-TAILED KITE (perhaps one the pair Wendy Parfrey has been reporting on) (1), LARK SPARROW (1)

Lake Temescal Regional Recreation Area – WHITE-THROATED SPARROW (1),
WOOD DUCK (3), GREEN HERON (1)

Lake Merritt – all five of the regular grebes in breeding regalia, Caspian Tern

Middle Harbor Shoreline Park – Black-bellied Plover hunting worms (my best guess) on the lawn, lots of shorebirds in breeding plumage – Dunlins, Willets, Long-billed Curlews, etc.

Garretson Point, MLK Regional Shoreline – LESSER YELLOWLEGS with a
Greater nearby for comparison

Tilden Regional Park Nature Area Upper Packrat Trail
April 3, 2015
Leader(s): Alan Kaplan
# of participants: 39
# of species: 46

Black-headed Grosbeak and Pacific-slope Flycatcher were FOS for many observers. The Grosbeaks usually return when the box-elder blooms but they were late this year: box-elder has been blooming (male catkins) for several weeks already. A Picidae hat-trick (Acorn, Downy, and Hairy Woodpeckers) this day. Red-shouldered Hawk nest in the eucalyptus above the iris patch (which is in bloom now) east of the dam at Jewel Lake.

Telegraph Hill
March 28, 2015
Leader(s): Carlo Arreglo
# of participants: 15
# of species: n/r

About 15 participants joined the Golden Gate Audubon Society bird walk on Telegraph Hill this lovely morning with epic views of the Golden Gate Bridge and Bay Bridge.  We meandered around Pioneer Park at the base of Coit Tower, the Greenwich and Lombard Steps, and ended at the overlook at the intersection of Lombard and Telegraph Hill Blvd, which looks out at the bay and Piers 29 and 31. Highlights were Peregrine Falcon, Clark’s Grebe, Tree Swallow, Pigeon Guillemot, Common Murre, and Red-breasted Merganser.

Lake Merritt
March 25, 2015
Leader(s): Ruth Tobey, Stephanie Floyd
# of participants: 16
# of species: 44

This morning started quite normally. The Double-crested Cormorants are nesting in the trees on the offshore islands, finally sporting their double crests and living up to their name. A few of the nests already have young ones begging for food.

Shortly after we finished counting the breeding Cormorants on the islands and floats (about 130 individuals) we looked further across the lake and discovered a huge raft of about 300 Double-crested Cormorants swimming in a long line, all in the same direction and coming towards us. The first birds in line would dive, followed by the next in line, herding fish along. Soon they were inside the floats. Birds from the back flew to the front to be first in line to dive. The scene was spectacular and went on for at least half an hour. Brown Pelicans joined the feast. It was hard to turn our attention to the other birds that were present.

Hank, the resident injured White Pelican, has grown his breeding bump on the top of his beak.. We found Ruddy Ducks looking very dapper; the male’s bills are now turning a bright blue and their backs are a beautiful reddish chestnut.

Some of the Eared Grebes are beginning to develop their golden “ears.” A Song Sparrow sang with great abandon from the top of a bush in the community garden, giving us excellent views. We caught glimpses of a small flock of Cedar Waxwings as they called overhead, but they didn’t settle down long enough to get good looks.

It’s good to see the annual cycle of life kicking into gear at the Lake where every day is a great day.

Napa River Boat Trip
March 21, 2015
Leader(s): Dominic Mosur
# of participants: n/r
# of species: 82

We enjoyed excellent conditions for this trip. The wind didn’t pick up from more than a light breeze until we were already on our last leg back to the marina and the overcast kept down glare making for perfect visibility. Thanks to several great spotters on board and our extremely knowledgable guide Barbara we managed to observe a total of 82 species.

Some of the highlights were: hundreds of pintails and scaup resting behind the Mare Island breakwater, an area accessible only by boat, approximately 15 Osprey nests on Mare Island and 1-2 in Napa County, Swainson’s Hawks returning to recently colonized nesting sites on the Napa River, tens of thousands of shorebirds on the recently restored Green Island Unit of the Napa – Sonoma Marshes complex, White-throated Swifts colonies on Napa River bridges.

Lassen County
March 21-22, 2015
Leader(s): David Quady
# of participants: 22
# of species: 82

Twenty-two birders enjoyed wonderful weather, some lingering winter resident waterfowl and raptors, and a good selection of northeastern California’s hoped-for March specialty species.

At 5:00 am Saturday morning we assembled in Susanville under a star-filled sky to begin our drive to a Greater Sage-Grouse lek. Darkness still hid the birds when we arrived, and a breeze prevented our enjoying the males’ popping display sound in the darkness. But soon we could make out their white ruffs moving about in the gloom, and after enjoying the males’ strutting in the daytime, the breeze diminished to the point that we could finally enjoy their popping sounds as well. We saw 11 displaying males, but no certain females. The males seemed more spread out on the lek than usual. That, together with the apparent absence of females, suggested that females might already be on eggs, and that the males’ display season was nearing its end

After leaving the lek, we enjoyed good views of a Sagebrush Sparrow, and also of a Sage Thrasher, giving us a fine “Sage trifecta,” of which two species – the grouse and the thrasher – are sage-obligates. Besides singing at length, the Sage Thrasher treated us to its “Bilateral Wing Display*,” a mating display that I’d never seen before.

After breakfast we birded a short stretch of the Bizz Johnson Trail in Susanville, cruised the forested edge of the Honey Lake Valley, and combed the streets of Janesville in search of Lewis’s Woodpeckers. Happily we found a pair in a friendly homeowner’s yard, where they frequented pines (!) as they’d done when I last visited two years ago. Fine as far as it goes, but it’s sobering to recall that a decade ago a dozen Lewis’s Woodpeckers could be found in Janesville with ease.

After a pleasant lunch stop at Artisan Coffee we caravanned through Honey Lake Valley from Janesville east to the Fleming Unit of Honey Lake State Wildlife Area. Our visit to Leavitt Lake produced several species of waterfowl on the lake, and a spectacular Snow Goose fly-in to fields north of the lake as sunset approached. We returned to the Fleming Unit in search of Short-eared Owls at dusk, but found none before dinner, and bed, beckoned us all back to Susanville.

Sunday morning was sunny and pleasantly warm, and we enjoyed good birds everywhere. Jack’s Valley produced a very accommodating Northern Pygmy-Owl, the first I’ve had there on a GGAS trip. The Five Dot Ranch’s pond near the north end of Willow Creek Valley held nine duck species; clearly the valley’s highlight this year. In the Eagle Lake basin our first pair of Mountain Bluebirds cheered us all, a fine set-up for our final stop, at the Orings’ residence. Lew and Kay generously opened their home to us, to enjoy our lunches and the many bird species their well-stocked feeders attracted. What a fine ending to an enjoyable trip

Fort Mason
March 15, 2015
Leader(s): David Assmann
# of participants: 35
# of species: 45

Despite being windy and overcast, the 35 birders on this morning’s GGAS walk at Fort Mason collectively saw 45 species of birds, with the most memorable being a PEREGRINE FALCON circling low down several times over the Community Garden. A cooperative WANDERING TATTLER walked along a ledge along Aquatic Park 8 feet below part of our birding group for at least 10 minutes (a 2nd Tattler was on the pier). The water in and around Aquatic Park also had a male SURF SCOTER that swam practically to shore, as well as a COMMON LOON, a RED-BREASTED MERGANSER and all three species of Cormorant. The only true new migrant was a flyover BARN SWALLOW. Lots of EURASIAN-COLLARED DOVES and BAND-TAILED PIGEONS. The AMERICAN CROWS were very acrobatic in the wind, with one flying upside down. We found the beginnings of a RED-TAILED HAWK nest, and the two Red-Tails completed many loops around the garden, often pursued by American Crows, some of whom also carried nesting material. Several NORTHERN FLICKERS were in the garden most of the morning.

Coyote Hills Regional Park
March 15, 2015
Leader(s): Steve and Carol Lombardi
# of participants: 12
# of species: 50

We enjoyed the faux spring weather and endured many biting mosquitoes at Coyote Hills. The marsh was full of water and singing birds. We had great looks at singing Marsh Wrens and Common Yellowthroats. The only early spring migrant was one Wilson’s Warbler heard singing.

Regional Parks Botanic Garden, Tilden Regional Park
March 13, 2015
Leader(s): Alan Kaplan
# of participants: 45
# of species: 27

Lots of flowers, trees in bloom (“the Black-headed Grosbeak returns when the Box-elder blooms” though, in fact, we did not have a Black-headed Grosbeak and there were Box-elders in bloom). Thanks to Wen Hsu and other RPBG docents, we saw bushtit and scrub jay nests. Juan Carlos Solis showed us a Saturniid moth pupal case (huge!) and Wen showed us a Pipevine Swallowtail chrysalis. A few swallowtail adults were flying about, too. One of the bushtit nests was under construction and many photos were taken. Danke schön to Christine for bringing the spotting scope today.

If you would like a copy of the New Sequence of Bird Orders and the accompanying bibliography from  the Bay Currents talk on What Your  Field Guide Tells You about Bird Evolution, please e-mail a request to me. Thanks!

Tilden Regional Park Nature Area
March 6, 2015
Leader(s): Alan Kaplan
# of participants: 41
# of species: 48

Our theme today was the new sequence of bird orders, derived mostly from Jarvis et al. 2014 in Science, 12 December 2014, 346:1320-1331. Whole genome analyses resolve early branches in the tree of life of modern birds.

Ducks and Geese, Pheasants and other Fowl lead the field guide sequence now, not Loons. Grebes are not closely related to Loons which with they have been paired in most of the field guides for nearly 100 years. Flamingoes and Grebes are now recognized as each others’ closest relatives. Swifts and Hummingbirds lose their respective orders, merged with the Goatsuckers and Nightjars ; they have always been associated in the guides, but the Swifts and hummers are derived from within the Nightbirds and so don’t get their own order(s) anymore. Cranes are sisters to Plovers (Gruiformes and Charadriiformes are each their own closest relatives). Penguins (out of our area), which led the world lists for almost a century, are close to the Tubenoses, Albatrosses and Shearwaters. Pelecaniformes are expanded to include storks, which lose their once-greatly expanded status as an order. New World Vultures are back with the Accipteriformes (Hawks and Eagles) after a “New York minute” as “storks.” Parrots are now closest to Songbirds, and Falcons are between the Parrot-Songbird orders and the woodpeckers (woodpeckers had immediately preceeded the sub-oscine Songbirds [Tyrant Flycatchers] for nearly a century)
Bird O’ the Day is hard to choose: was it the Red-breasted Sapsucker, once again at the parking lot picnic table for hours? The pair of Red-shouldered Hawks at the Jewel Lake Meadow? The Hooded Merganser on the lake? The pair of Double-crested Cormorants (at least one showing the crests!)? Or the four raptors (Sharp-shinned, Cooper’s, Red-tailed and the aforementioned Red-shouldered)? Or the five Picidae- Northern Flicker, Downy, Hairy and Acorn Woodpeckers, and aforementioned Red-breasted Sapsucker?

Orange-crowned Warblers singing everywhere, sunny day of delight!

San Francisco Botanical Garden
March 1, 2015
Leader(s): Kimberly Jannarone
# of participants: 12+
# of species: 40

A dozen birders joined me for a segment of the monthly GGAS walk at the Arboretum today. It was a sunny, clear day that resulted in 40 species for our group, the best sightings being the noisy and demonstrative springtime activity. We watched a pair of bushtits building a nest, some Pygmy Nuthatches excavating cavities, an Anna’s hummingbird on a nest, Allen’s hummingbirds displaying, and m/f pairs of Mallards, Canada Geese, Hooded Mergansers, and Red-Shouldered Hawks. We heard singing Ruby-Crowned Kinglets, Hutton’s Vireos, Brown Creeper, Purple Finch, Song Sparrow, Pacific Wren, Varied Thrush, and more.

Two Cooper’s Hawks flew overhead and one perched near the California Garden. Pine Siskins were making their watch-winding call all over. One CALIFORNIA QUAIL was in the demonstration garden. Thanks to a heads-up from another group, our group spotted first one, then two, WHITE-THROATED SWIFTS.

I sat down by the fountain to do my list and heard a noise that sounded a bit like a very fast white-breasted nuthatch. I followed the sound and found that the source of it was a Song Sparrow–making a noise that was new to me. Learn something every day.

Lake Merritt
February 25 2015
Leader(s): Hilary Powers and Ruth Tobey
# of participants: 20
# of species: 48

Nothing truly astonishing on today’s walk, but much to delight the attending birders – especially the half-dozen of the twenty or so who stayed to the end and had the chance to watch a Bewick’s Wren investigating the Bee Hotel in the garden. A pair nested there last year, and this one – with a puff of seed fluff firmly beaked – was searching in and out of every wren-sized opening, apparently looking for the perfect spot. That book-ended the day neatly, as it began with a male Nuttall’s Woodpecker showing off his ladder back and red head in the trees beside the geodesic dome cage, where we never ever saw a woodpecker before.

The female Belted Kingfisher was fishing from the island, not yet disturbed by the Double-crested Cormorants (with bunny-ear crests on their normally snakelike heads) who were beginning to assemble for the nesting season. Or by the resident Red-tailed Hawk, sitting almost invisible on a lower branch of one of the big trees on the island. (Resident? No sign of nesting, but when you often see a red-tail in the area and it’s *always* a very dark – and therefore rare – morph, you can assume it’s the same bird each time.)

The species count was 48 – missing a few regulars but including two Great Blue Herons, two pairs of Common Goldeneyes and a half-dozen female Common Mergansers. An early Northern Rough-winged Swallow zipped past like a brown bullet, possibly scoping out the lakeside wall where they nested last year; a flock of Cedar Waxwings landed briefly on one of the island trees and then swooped off in a tight bunch, and a Common Raven flew past overhead, standing out from the crows by his long diamond-shaped tail.

And over beside the Children’s Art Center, the workmen had opened part of the construction area to lake water, making the first ripples of the new wetland-to-be! A hopeful sign on a good day at Lake Merritt, where every… single… day… is a good day indeed.

Upper San Leandro Reservoir
February 22, 2015
Leader(s): Steve and Carol Lombardi
# of participants: 20
# of species: 44

We could see no water in the reservoir from any or our vantage points. Hence, no ducks or other water birds. Otherwise, it was quite birdy, with lots of bird songs, including California Thrashers singing their heads off and early Orange-Crowned Warblers singing.

We also had lots of four-legged critters, including: 2 coyotes, 2 deer, a newt (California, I believe), western fence lizards, and a brief look at 2 dusky-footed woodrats.

Sacramento River Delta Boat Trip
February 15, 2015
Leader(s): Bruce Mast
# of participants: n/r
# of species: 75

Golden Gate Audubon organized a great boat trip to the delta today, powered by Dolphin Charters. Many thanks to Ron and John for their excellent narration of the history and natural history of the Delta. By my count, we saw a total of 75 species today, including the birds around the Marina.
A few trip highlights included, in no particular order, PEREGRINE FALCON on the Antioch Bridge, a pair of nesting GREAT-HORNED OWLS, a pair of nesting RED-TAILED HAWKS, 3 fly-over YELLOW-HEADED BLACKBIRDS, plenty of SANDHILL CRANES, a few TUNDRA SWANS, AMERICAN WHITE PELICANS, both on the water and soaring overhead, lots of SNOW/ROSS’S GEESE both real and decoys, a few harder to find ducks including CINNAMON TEAL, RING-NECKED DUCK, and COMMON GOLDENEYE, some great looks at a couple AMERICAN BITTERNS, several skulking COMMON GALLINULES, LOGGERHEAD SHRIKE  on a power line, … I could go on.

In the mammal department, we had a glimpse of a River Otter, what may have been a Beaver or another Otter, a Raccoon-like furball in a tree, and a pair of Raccoons along the shore.

Dolphin Charters will be running a boat trip up the Napa River on April 25 as part of the GGAS Birdathon. All proceeds go to benefit the chapter’s essential conservation and education work. Bob Lewis will provide his most excellent bird guiding services. Check GoldenGateAudubon.org for sign-up information.

Fort Mason, San Francisco
February 15, 2015
Leader(s): Carlo Arregloand Mike Gertz
# of participants: 25
# of species: 50 

Gorgeous day with sunny, calm, clear conditions. Roughly 25 participants (quite a few from Berkeley and Oakland) joined co-leader Mike Gertz and me–substituting for David Assmann– for a morning of some fun and great  birding. It helped that Mike found the Orchard Oriole right at the start and the group managed to get nice, open looks at a very bright and cooperative bird. We eventually moved and then I spotted a Nashville Warbler and we looked at another cooperative bird. Pictures of both in Flickr below but there were several folks that undoubtedly got better pics. Both of these birds were seen in the garden.

We had some odd misses. No Dark-eyed Juncos and no loons, mergansers, or Western Grebes. I think there may have been some kind of swimming event because there were a lot more swimmers than usual and this may have moved the waterbirds away. We did manage to find two Wandering Tattlers on the abandoned pier and 1 Red-breasted Sapsucker, which was not in its usual spot but in the wild area by the battery.  A pair of Cooper’s Hawks flew around and one provided great scope views as it perched. Numerous sea lions in the cove. We ended with 50 species. Thanks to Mike Gertz for co-leading! Thanks to William Chan and Paul Weaver for helping with the recording and to all the participants for their energy and enthusiasm.

Miller Knox Regional Shoreline
February 13, 2015
Leader(s): Alan Kaplan
# of participants: 34
# of species: 53

A large group of observers enjoyed a large group of BRANT (more than 50) ! We’ve got photos and video ! Gull-a-pa-looza was not happening, but we had good looks at Mew Gull, California Gull, Western Gull and Ring-billed Gull, and a Glaucous-winged Gull flyover.

Ted Robertson and Juan-Carlos Solis appeared and added a bunch of land birds to the list (and the Red-throated Loon). We got good views of Eurasian Wigeon to compare to the many American Wigeon present. Thanks to all who brought scopes and shared knowledge!

Tilden Regional Park Nature Center
February 6, 2015
Leader(s): Alan Kaplan
# of participants: 18
# of species: 29

My 70th bird walk for GGAS ! And a nice rain fell from early on,  increased and decreased throughout the morning and continued as we finished. Bird o’ the Day must be the persistent Red-breasted Sapsucker, which was waiting for us at the start near a picnic table, and Jim A. was photographing it still at the end of the walk! it was also a Five Picidae Day: the Red-breasted Sapsucker, Northern Flicker, Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, and Acorn Woodpecker. We had a raptor hat-trick: Red-shouldered Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk and Cooper’s Hawk.

We talked about hummingbirds which form “temporary pair bonds” (we don’t say they are “promiscuous” anymore); California Towhees which form life-long pair bonds (at least as long as 5 years, when Lauryn Benedict’s study ended), and Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers which break their pair bonds at the end of each breeding season but often pair off with the same mate the next year because the pairs overwinter near their breeding territories.  See The Private Lives of Birds by Bridget Stutchbury for more stories about bird mating strategies.

Thanks to all the stalwarts and new birders who came out on a wet day!

Lake Merritt
January 28, 2015
Leader(s): Hilary Powers and Ruth Tobey
# of participants: 28
# of species: 54

Twenty-eight birders were treated to some wonderful sights on today’s walk: 54 species all told, including the first-ever Varied Thrush and one of the handful of Spotted Sandpipers seen here in the last decade.

People kept saying, “Find me a –” – and we did: a Mew Gull ; a Green Heron; the aforementioned Varied Thrush; a gorgeous male Townsend’s Warbler complete with bright black burglar’s mask on his bright yellow face. Beautiful birds, brilliantly lit.

But the surface of the lake was almost empty…. Well, empty for Lake Merritt – a couple of hundred Greater and Lesser Scaup, instead of several thousand; a few dozen Canvasbacks instead of a few hundred. Even the Ruddy Ducks seemed thin on the water. The solid half-dozen female Common Mergansers didn’t make up for it.

What’s happening at the lake? It’s sort of scary, even on a truly lovely day….

Pescadero
January 24, 2015
Leader(s): Martha Wessitsch
# of participants: 22
# of species: 34

The group saw most of the usual suspects, including Brandt’s Cormorant, Common and Red-breasted Merganser, Black Oystercatcher, Osprey, Black Turnstone, Surfbird, Sanderling and Common Yellowthroat.

Fort Mason
January 18, 2015
Leader(s): David Assmann
# of participants: 16
# of species: 37

Sixteen birders spent a very foggy morning at Fort Mason today. There were at least three NASHVILLE WARBLERS, two in the garden and one behind the General’s House. One of the Nashville’s spent an extensive amount of time in the Montbretia on the north side of the garden, providing great views. The RED-BREASTED SAPSUCKER was still in its favorite small tree next to the steps leading down to Aquatic Park. The male RED-BREASTED MERGANSERS were in Aquatic Park. A VARIED THRUSH called.

Lake Merced
January 17, 2015
Leader(s): David Armstrong
# of participants: n/r
# of species: n/r

I subbed for Angie on today’s trip to Lake Merced and we had a few nice birds. Starting at the concrete bridge we had at least 5 Great-tailed Grackles and a Thayer’s Gull. We did easily find the Swamp Sparrow at MH 7 which put on a good show for us. We looked for but missed the other two rarities that Alan refound. A couple of Tree Swallows and a Turkey Vulture flew over the lake. A female Common Yellowthroat was quite confiding on the rocks near the fishing pier and we also had an Orange-Crowned Warbler there.

Over at the Boathouse we had 2 Purple Finches, a female Ring-Necked Duck and strangely enough a Surf Scoter near the Wooden Bridge that we saw in the scope.

After lunch Annie and I tried again for the waterthrush but no luck. We did however manage a Bewick’s Wren and 4 exotic escaped quail (Common Quail?) on the trail just below the Penguin structure. I will post some pictures to the Files section of SFBirds if anyone is interested.

Aquatic Park, San Francisco
January 17, 2015
Leader(s): Carol Kiser and Carlo Arreglo
# of participants: n/r
# of species: n/r

I (Carlo) helped out a bit with this morning’s walk, which would have started at the foot of Hyde Street Pier except that I had to wave everyone over onto the pier to look at the Western Bluebirds. They were putting on a nice show by perching out in the open on the South End Rowing Club’s fence, roof, and roof antenna. The participants were all wowed by the warm rufous and blue tones of Western Bluebirds. The Palm Warbler put in an appearance and I hope that nice photographer finally got a decent photo; it was being fidgety and no doubt what with all the foot traffic.

The walk ranged from Hyde Street Pier to the Aquatic Park meadow then to the beach. Other birds of interest include a Common Murre, which initially confused me because I didn’t realize they came that far into the cove (it was sticking close to a Monterey-style boat), a female Surf Scoter, a couple of Buffleheads, and 3 Red-breasted Mergansers.

Tilden Regional Park Inspiration Point
January 9, 2015
Leader(s): Alan Kaplan
# of participants: 30
# of species: 25

We walked from Inspiration Point, out on the Nimitz Way to mile marker 1 and back. There were lots of scopes and cameras today- thank you for bringing them! Bird o’ the Day must be the intergrade/hybrid Northern Flicker, nicely photographed by Erika K. Black mustache, red crescent on the nape, and reddish wing linings when it flew (though the photo seems to be yellowish in the sitting bird).

Other hits of the day were a brief look at dust-bathing Bewick’s Wren, a very persistent Varied Thrush, scratching for something under a Monterey pine, and an American Kestrel well-posed on a power tower (Jim A. posted a photo of it to the Meet-up page). Our participants included first-timers, new birders, and a visitor from the frigid suburbs of New York.

Tilden Regional Park Nature Center
January 2, 2015
Leader(s): Alan Kaplan
# of participants: 38
# of species: 23

Today’s theme was Mixed-species Flocks. At the very end of the walk, in the parking lot, we had a MSF of Chestnut-backed Chickadees, Bushtits, a Townsend’s Warbler (but not the expected Brown Creeper or Downy Woodpecker). Bird of the Day was the male Hooded Merganser at Jewel Lake, who emerged from a nap under the willows on the west side with a splashing entrance that thrilled all who saw it.

The reference for tropical America mixed-species flocks composition and behavior is Birds of Tropical America, Steven Hilty, 1994 (Curious Naturalist Series, Chapters Publishing, Shelburne, Vermont). The reference for “group color badges” in Western Panama and Andean mixed-species flocks is Social Mimicry: Character Convergence versus Character Displacement, M. Moynihan, 1968 Evolution: 22: 315-331, cited in Ornithology (3rd ed.), Frank B. Gill, 2007 (W.H. Freeman, New York).

Composition and Temporal Variation of Flocks in the Sierra Nevada, Michael L. Morrison et al., is from The Condor: 89: 739-745, 1987, and Positive Relationships between Association Strength and Phenotypic Similarity Characterize the Assembly of Mixed-Species Bird Flocks Worldwide, Hari Sridhar et al., is from The American Naturalist : 180 (6) (December 2012): 777-790.

Thanks to Johan L. who tracked down the Hooded Merganser  for us and Bob S. for the scope view, and Erika K. for the photo of it.  GGAS President Laura Gobbi attended today, and so did a few new birders, for the New Year!