2019 Trip Reports

Lake Merritt
December 18, 2019
Leader(s):  Hilary Powers and Ruth Tobey
# of participants: 4
# of species:  38

The December 4th-Wednesday Golden Gate Audubon walk had two strikes against it: it was on the 3rd Wednesday, the 4th being otherwise occupied (Christmas Day), and the weather forecast promised rain. The hourly forecast was friendlier, with only a small chance of rain before noon, and the four intrepid birders who joined the two leaders actually found a gleam of sun.

We started with lovely looks at a Green Heron prospecting the rocks on the near island – these little jewels of the heron world are almost certainly always here, but they hide; we can go months without seeing one. Meanwhile, a flock of five American White Pelicans were performing their feeding dance, which looks for all the world like water ballet, right in front of the near island, and a pair of Barrow’s Goldeneyes –the first since last January – patrolled the area between the islands and the shore, with an immature male not far away. We saw lots of Common Goldeneyes too, but that was expected; they’re always here from November through March, while the Barrow’s make only occasional appearances at our end of the lake.

The last few weeks had been full of reports of mergansers at the lake in unusual numbers – from 10 to 30-odd,  raising high hopes. So it was almost (but not quite) a disappointment to pick up only a pair of Common Mergansers; an undeniable treat since we can go years without seeing them at all, but still….

The scaup population was up from November, with both Greater and Lesser Scaup in the flock, but still so far below what used to be normal that the Ruddy Ducks and Canvasbacks could compete with them for sheer numbers. A few Western Grebes joined the float at the Embarcadero end of the lake, along with several  Pied-billed Grebes and one Horned Grebe looking for all the world like a miniature Western.

By 11:30, having done the park segment of the trip in reverse since the gorgeous new gate on the back of the garden was still shut tight and we knew we couldn’t get out that way, we reached the corner of Children’s Fairyland dry and in good spirits despite missing several expected species, which were resolutely hiding instead of out stuffing their beaks as they should have been. We’d caught a couple of good views of burglar-masked Townsend’s Warblers, a California Scrub Jay, some Dark-eyed Juncos, and lots of White-crowned Sparrows and a couple of Golden-crowned – but no Titmice, no Bushtits, no robins or finches either.

Two of the remaining three walkers departed at that point, and the rest of us went off around the back of Fairyland, ignoring the first few drops of rain. And the next few. And then it was coming down steadily and we were committed to the extra loop – not that any of us minded much, reveling in the childlike delight of walking in the rain – but all the birds that had been hiding kept on hiding. All told, we saw only 38 species: way down from the usual December total, which runs in the mid to high 40s, but it was still a day to be savored at Lake Merritt, where every day brings joys of its own.

Fort Mason
December 15, 2019
Leader(s): David Assmann
# of participants: 10
# of species: 49

Lots of expected, but good birds on today’s walk at Fort Mason.  Started the morning with a continuing YELLOW-SHAFTED NORTHERN FLICKER in the garden.  Everyone had great looks at the continuing male ORCHARD ORIOLE in the garden. A NASHVILLE WARBLER was just outside the garden on the west side. The WANDERING TATTLER was working its way along the edge of the water in Aquatic Park. A GREAT HORNED OWL sat right above us we walked down from the lower Battery. 

Albany Mudflats/Albany Bulb
December 8, 2019
Leader(s): Fred Werner
# of participants: 14
# of species: 59

The rains paused, the clouds parted, and 14 birders showed up to see 59 species show up along the Albany shoreline.  The Burrowing Owl once again eluded us, but we did see 11 species of ducks, as well as over 1,000 shorebirds, a Kingfisher, an Osprey, a White-tailed Kite, a close flyover of a Cooper’s Hawk for the 2nd month in a row. We also saw a flock of 10 American Pipits, and recorded almost 50 White-crowned Sparrows over the course of our walk.

Tilden Park Nature Area
December 6,  2019
Leader(s): Alan Kaplan
# of participants: 20
# of species: 31

Our walk went to Jewel Lake and back to the Visitor Center parking lot on the road.

Termites at the visitor center were fed on by Steller’s Jay, Dark-eyed Junco and Brown Creeper. The subterranean termites emerge around 10am on the next sunny day after the first heavy rain.  Ospreys (2) flew overhead. Lots of Ruby-crowned Kinglets today, good views of the red crown feathers. Theme was winter survival strategies of birds, and a brief talk about Red Crossbills, which had appeared in November but were not around recently. 

Our annual book exchange was held, thanks to the donors. There will be a December 26 Hunt-the-Wren-Day/ St. Stephen’s Day walk at the usual time and place.  View today’s  checklist online at https://ebird.org/checklist/S62103368

Blake Garden, Kensington
December 4,  2019
Leader(s): Sonja Raub
# of participants: 3
# of species: 20

On a rainy Wednesday morning four hardy souls ventured forth to find the winter resident birds in UC Regents’ Blake Garden. Meghan, the head gardener, gave a synopsis of the garden’s history to begin with. We were greeted by Ruby Crowned Kinglets, Brown Creepers, Red-breasted Nuthatches, Chestnut-backed Chickadees, Oak Titmice, Hermit Thrush, Spotted and California Towhees, Fox, Golden-crowned and Song Sparrows, Dark-eyed Juncos, Stellar and Scrub Jays, a Townsend’s Warbler, Lesser Goldfinch, Bewick’s Wrens, Crows, Anna’s Hummingbirds, and a beautiful, but soggy Red-shouldered Hawk.

We hope to repeat this tour in January, 2020 with better weather, as well as more bird sightings and species. There is a plan to offer a guided birding walk through the Blake Garden once a month in 2020.

Today’s checklist is located at http://ebird/org/checklist/S62115442

Lake Merritt
November 27, 2019
Leader(s): Hilary Powers and Ruth Tobey
# of participants: 19
# of species: 39

Venturing out right after the year’s first rainstorm and what was probably right before the second, we enjoyed most of a morning of fine weather for such a day – overcast and cold, but good light and no wind. So we were spoiled. When a big fat rain cell opened up on us at 11:40, the last 20 minutes of the trip (under the Lakeside Park trees and with the garden gate near the boathouse blocked off) just couldn’t compete with the prospect of shelter and dry feet. Loss of most of the land birds brought the species count for the day down to 39 – lowest for the month in years –  but we enjoyed every bit of what we saw… except maybe the 8-inch sewer geyser pouring up out of a manhole cover near the globe cage at the end of the morning…. Nah, that was fun too, for those not required to fix it.

As has become usual, the expected winter visitors put in an appearance at the lake, but in numbers much lower than was typical even a decade ago. We did get a Western Grebe, the first November sighting since 2015, and there were enough nearby scaup to identify both Lesser and Greater – though far from enough to turn the surface black with birds as it should be. The Ruddy Ducks, Bufflehead, and Common Goldeneyes were out in force, relatively speaking, along with the usual crowd of  American Coots, but we completely dipped on the rarer Barrow’s Goldeneye.

A pair of Red-breasted Mergansers overflew the islands near our meeting spot as we were gathering, and another of the species swam on the Embarcadero side of the islands. We see these birds occasionally in the late fall or winter, but only once before in November, in 2016. The day’s other relative novelty was a Glaucous-winged Gull that perched on the roof of the Arts & Science Center long enough to give everyone a good look.

At the beginning of the walk, the floats that block the islands and the Embarcadero end of the lake from boat traffic were crowded shoulder to shoulder – or wingtip to wingtip, anyway – with Double-crested Cormorants, mostly this year’s birds. If they were all born here, the rookery was way more successful than it looked; a quick estimate put the population somewhere north of 250 birds. But perhaps they started elsewhere, as they’d almost all vanished a couple of hours later, leaving the floats to the gulls and the odd Brown Pelican and no feeding flotilla in sight (though they mighta been around behind Children’s Fairyland, where we didn’t go).

So it was another entertainment-packed day at Lake Merritt, where every day is a good day even when the sewers leap up to meet the falling rain – after which your correspondent scuttled off to catch a train to Sacramento for the impending holiday.

Hilltop Lake Park
November 20, 2019
Leader(s): Cathy Bleier
# of participants: 12
# of species: 37

We had a very nice walk on a warm but windy day.  Birds were chirping and flying briskly back and forth, making ID and counting challenging at times.  We saw 37 species, including our large winter group of Ring-necked Ducks, plus Gadwall, Bufflehead and Wigeons, three woodpecker species and the other usual suspects.  Highlights and unusual visitors were the Hooded Mergansers (2 females) and Red-breasted Sapsucker.  Our online list is located at https://ebird.org/camerica/checklist/S61636421

Fort Mason
November 17,  2019
Leader(s): David Assmann
# of participants: 20
# of species: 53

The highlights today were a Yellow-Shafted Northern Flicker, a Merlin, 2 Varied Thrush, a Scaly-breasted Munia, a Lincoln’s Sparrow and an Orchard Oriole.

Birds of the San Francisco and San Pablo Bays Dolphin Boat Charter
November 16,  2019
Leader(s): Hilary Powers
# of participants: 27
# of species: 39

We had a great day despite the very foggy weather.  Highlights included a fogbow, sun dogs, harbor seals and harbor porpoises.

Albany Shoreline
November 10,  2019
Leader(s): Fred Werner
# of participants: 35
# of species: 56

This month’s visit to the Albany shoreline was successful in gathering a good group of new and experienced birders to see huge numbers of a wide range of shorebirds and ducks.   Massive flocks of Western Sandpipers (with some Least Sandpipers, Dunlin, and Dowitchers mixed in) as well as good numbers of larger shorebirds (godwits, avocets, whimbrels and Long-billed Curlews).  Another highlight was a very low flyover of a larger (probable female) Cooper’s Hawk.  In the distance, massive rafts of Buffleheads, Surf Scoters and scaup floated in the deeper water as the tide continued to drop.  We turned around before reaching the tip of the Bulb, given the incoming fog and late hour.  

A primary goal is to find Burrowing Owls that overwinter in a fenced-off area that is maintained as open grassland to support the ground squirrels whose burrows the owls use.  Although they have been reported already this year by other observers, only one participant in our group got a brief glimpse of a Burrowing Owl, which wasn’t found by anyone else in the group.  Hopefully, at least one owl will make an appearance next month…

The ebird lists can be found here:

Albany Mudflats: https://ebird.org/checklist/S61352396

McLaughlin Eastshore State Park:https://ebird.org/checklist/S61352500

and on the way back from the bulb: https://ebird.org/checklist/S61352545

Albany Bulb: https://ebird.org/checklist/S61352541

Bike and Bird to Arrowhead Marsh and Environs
November 9, 2019
Leaders:  Cathy Bleier and Pat Greene
# Total Participants: 12
# Species:  62

This was a joint Golden Gate Audubon/Grizzly Peak Cyclists Bike and Bird Trip, co-led by Cathy Bleier and Pat Greene with scope portage by Chris Witt!  We biked San Leandro Bay shoreline about 4 miles from Zhone Way to Arrowhead Marsh, then out to Swan Way with a side trip past dry seasonal ponds to San Leandro Creek and back, and finally over to Doolittle Dr. for lunch near MLK Jr Shoreline Center.  Due to the hour, falling tide, sun angle and low likelihood a picking up more than an extra species or two, we bailed on Elsie Roemer this trip.  Retracing our route, we saw one or two more species, for a total of 62 species.   

Seasonal ponds near Garretson Point and San Leandro Creek (on the side track from the Arrowhead Marsh exit road to Swan Way) were dry, but the latter had a group of over 60 Killdeer just sitting and staring at us.   We looked for a Clay-colored Sparrow nearby on the creek but found none, though we ended up seeing the group of Blue-winged Teal, close up and personal.  The highlight was perhaps the line of 7 Black Oystercatchers on the rocky shoreline along Doolittle Road, though the Ridgway Rails were of course fun, too.  We rode a total of about 9 miles to and from BART in a pleasant windless, 55 to 65 degrees with a bit of fog/haze the first 2 hours and then sunny.

Wetlands Edge Park, American Canyon
November 3,  2019
Leader(s): Fred Werner
# of participants: 50+
# of species: 75

Today was a fantastic day to bird in American Canyon!   Over 50 birders found 75 species of birds in the ponds, mudflats and woods of Wetlands Edge Park along the lower Napa River.  The tide had receded exposing mudflats that attracted a dizzying array of shorebirds and ducks.  We surely left some species on the table as the flocks were too vast and mixed to check every individual with 100% accuracy.  We did our best, dividing up counting responsibilities.  And with many eyes (and scopes!) scanning the flocks, we did find some good birds.  Highlights included a Blue-winged Teal, a Common Gallinule helpfully posing in the same binocular view as a coot and 6 raptor species, including both a Kestrel and a Merlin right by the parking lot.

eBird list here: https://ebird.org/checklist/S61165552

Tilden Park Nature Area
November 1,  2019
Leader(s): Alan Kaplan
# of participants: 35
# of species: 32

This was my #150 birdwalk for Golden Gate Audubon. “Birds” O’ the Day were 3 coyotes, trotting down the road past Jewel Lake heading north into Wildcat Canyon. Next month (December 6) will be our almost-annual Book Exchange; bring books or magazines you want to find a new home for, and take home a new treasure!  View the checklist online at https://ebird.org/checklist/S61104624

Fort Mason
October 20, 2019
Leader(s): David Assmann
# of participants: 25
# of species: 59

The highlights this morning were 28 Anna’s Hummingbirds (a high count for Fort Mason), a Wandering Tattler, 2 Northern Harriers, a hybrid Red-Naped x Red-Breasted Sapsucker, a Savannah Sparrow, 2 Orchard Orioles, and 51 Yellow-Rumped Warblers.

Coyote Point to Foster City Bike and Bird, San Mateo
October 19,  2019
Leader(s): Cathy Bleier and Pat Greene, co-sponsored with Grizzly Peak Cyclists
# of participants: 6
# of species: 72

After a slight alteration in route due to BART work delays, 8 of us biked and birded from Coyote Point yacht club, south along the Bay Trail, and past the San Mateo bridge; half of us biked 2 miles farther to Sea Cloud Park. Despite a darkly overcast day, the temperature was perfect.

Not all duck species have arrived yet but we still saw lots of birds, starting with 2 Red-shouldered Hawks hanging out on the transmission tower near the Yacht Club parking lot and multiple sparrow species in the nicely unmowed adjacent grass. Sun angle notwithstanding, we watched lots of waders, shorebirds and good  numbers of both Elegant and Forster Terns in the harbor marsh. The little fresh water Pond nearby had mostly Shovelers but the slough that fed it had a tucked duck whose nearly only visible feature was that distinctive white circled eye of a female Wood Duck; maybe a hybrid since she was with Mallards. Large rafts of Surf Scoters and a group of Wigeons were in the bay with Clark’s Grebes and a couple Buffleheads.

The piece de resistance, however, was Foster City Shell Bar – a short way south of our lunch spot at the San Mateo bridge. With a tide of about 6 feet, there was a slender strip of shoreline with 90 Black Skimmers, a handful of Black Turnstones (and 3 Ruddy ones on the return trip), Dowitchers, lots of Willets, Godwits and more terns, and a dozen Red Knots which we finally, proudly sussed out among all the grey winter plumage.  We spent a while watching and photographing the Skimmers (which were doing lots of skimming) since we were so close to them!  Additional treat of the day was 2 all-black squirrels, a first for me. Internet information, being what it is, is split on whether these are a Stanford science mishap, a rare morph (there are small populations in a few parts of the country), or some combo of the two. I’m pretty certain a good day was had by all, even a non-birder from GPC. 

https://ebird.org/checklist/S60801342

Hilltop Lake Park, Richmond
October 9, 2019
Leader(s): Cathy Bleier
# of participants: 11
# of species: 39

A nice birdy day at Hilltop for our monthly outing.  We walked our usual 3/4 mile path around the lake, surrounded by plenty of native and some handy non-native plant species in grassland, shrubland, woody and riparian habitats – a lotta habitat for a small area!  The fun started in the parking lot with multiple species, including a bunch of Red-breasted Nuthatches flitting around (they’re EVERYWHERE this season).   Several duck species are back, including Ring-necked, Wigeons and a few Gadwalls.  Among the treats of the day were Golden-crowned Kinglets and a couple of very excited Ruby-crowned Kinglets, cocking their red crowns up at each other and us (nice picture on Ebird list by Rebecca).  We had great looks at a Cooper’s Hawk which landed on a fence 100 feet away, followed minutes later by…a Peregrine Falcon (thanks to Ann, Kevin and others for spotting it), added to the Red-tailed and Red-shouldered Hawks.  We also had a Snowy Egret, which is usual for this site, 3 woodpecker species and 3 warbler species.    A great bunch of people and birds for a wonderful day!   See our catch on https://ebird.org/checklist/S60515770 .

Albany Shoreline
October 6, 2019
Leader(s): Fred Werner
# of participants: 20+
# of species: 52

On Sunday Oct 6, the Albany shoreline put on another show for the Golden Gate Audubon Society.  A group of over 20 people including some highly experienced birders, some who have birded these hotspots dozens of times, and a few first-time-ever-birding folks as well.

The outing started an hour after high tide, when the ducks were confined to the outlet of the creek at the far southeast corner of the area, and only the taller shorebirds (avocets, godwits, etc.) had alighted on some shallow sandbars.  As the tide receded, and these became islands and then eventually broad exposed mudflats, ever more shorebirds and ducks flocked in.  Special treats included repeated flyovers by an Osprey and also a pair of dowitchers though they remained silent leaving and as a group we could not confidently say whether they were Short-billed or Long-billed. 

Moving on to the upland area, we focused intently on the Burrowing Owl protected area, having heard reports that one was spotted there the day before.  But to no avail.  The grass had long since been mowed very short and nothing had grown back yet. So unless an owl was inside one of the burrows, there just weren’t any there. We did get excellent views of the mudflats from here and witnessed a PEREGRINE FALCON successfully snatch a peep from among the panicking flocks.  From this vantage, we also picked out a EURASIAN WIGEON and a CANVASBACK from among the ducks resting in the exposed mud. And in addition to the Falcon, we had a close fly-by of a Cooper’s Hawk, later seen circling high being harassed by gulls, and also a soaring Red-tailed Hawk, as well as more glimpses of the Osprey. Some late-season Violet-Green Swallows added to the aerial display.  We also had brief but close views of one Western Meadowlark, as well as a Western and a Clark’s Grebe close enough to see in one binocular view for helpful comparison.

Only a couple of birders opted in for the final stretch of the walk out to the tip of the Albany Bulb, where we picked up Black Oystercatchers, Fox and Golden-crowned Sparrows, and a Northern Mockingbird among others

 Thanks to all who showed up, see some of you again next month!

Tilden Nature Area
October 4, 2019
Leader(s): Alan Kaplan
# of participants: 40
# of species: 38

This was our monthly walk in the Tilden Nature Area, on the road to Jewel Lake and back again.

Bird o’the Day was Golden-crowned Kinglet. See “Ecomorphology of the North American Ruby-crowned (Regulus calendula) and Golden-crowned (R. satrapa) Kinglets”, by Keast and Saunders, The Auk 108(4):880-888, October 1991 [available on-line] and “Carotenoid-based plumage coloration in golden-crowned kinglets, Regulus satrapa: pigment characterization and relationships with migratory times and condition”, by Chui, McGraw and Doucet, Journal of Avian Biology 42(4):309-322, July 2011 [abstract only].

Rictal bristles, wing bones, tarsi and toes, and soles of the feet reflect differences in the feeding movements and preferred feeding habitats (conifers for golden-crowns, deciduous trees for ruby-crowns) of North American Kinglets.

Female golden-crowned kinglets with longer wavelength crown hues left for migration earlier, had fewer feather mites, and tended to be in better condition. Males with longer wavelength crown hues and more saturated crown coloration left for migration earlier and possessed smaller pectoral muscles. Head pigmentation may be an honest signal of quality of fall condition and migratory performance of Golden-crowned Kinglets.

Thank you to George S. and Lee F. for photography today. Thank you also to Dave Quady for joining today’s walk.

View this checklist online at https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S60376580

Lake Merritt
September 25, 2019
Leader(s):  Hilary Powers and Ruth Tobey
# of participants: 15
# of species:  38

The fourth Wednesday of September was hot this year. Really hot. It was so hot by 9:30 that we moved our meeting spot to the shade behind the globe cage  – for the first time ever – and we spent the rest of the morning scuttling from shadow to shadow. But the birds were wonderful anyway, the peak (for those who managed to catch a glimpse) being what we decided had to be a female Western Tanager high in one of the Lakeside Park trees: bright gold underneath, orange beak, and huge compared to the black-masked Townsend’s Warblers moving through at the same time.

The park trees were also bouncing with Oak Titmice, plus some Chestnut-backed Chickadees and a Nuttall’s Woodpecker or two making their presence heard in the distance, and Brown Creepers seemed to follow the group. (We rarely see them at all, and almost never more than one, but this time they showed up on three separate occasions) White-crowned Sparrows had returned too, with substantial flocks in the park and garden, but the other winter sparrows were still en route somewhere.

On the lake,  American Coots and  Pied-billed Grebes were out in force, after being missing or down to one or two individuals for the last few months. A dozen or so White Pelicans lounged on the islands or moseyed through the water dipping for fish, and several Brown Pelicans sat or slouched on the floats. Otherwise, it was all Canada Geese, Mallards, assorted gulls, and Double-crested Cormorants; none of the winter ducks had arrived yet, though a few species have appeared on nearby waters.

Two Black-crowned Night Herons perched side by side on the rocks in nearly identical erect poses, vividly illustrating the difference between the adult’s black, gray, and white business suit and the juvenile’s streaky brown casual plumage. Meanwhile, a Green Heron prospected along the near island, inspiring the usual discussion of all the colors that bird displays except green. A group of Snowy Egrets clustered around the fake that perches on one of the far islands, making its excessive size and its stillness painfully obvious, and three or four Great Egrets joined the party too. We kept looking for the usual Great Blue Heron to complete the set, but it was hiding or missing that morning.

The big treat in the garden was an adult Red-shouldered Hawk posing near the top of a bare pine tree, showing off its russet breast and black-and-white checkered wings and keeping a wary eye out for crows. It switched perches after a while but stayed in view long enough for people to reach the “seen enough hawk” point and move on, which isn’t quick. We headed for the Sensory Garden with high hopes of finches at the stone fountain, but it was crowded with three-foot humans instead – delightful little bipeds even without feathers, but we were way too hot to wait until the birds had a chance to return.

Did I mention it was hot? It was hot – but we did see or at least hear 38 species of birds again this year, and it was still a very good day to be at Lake Merritt instead of anyplace else.

Fort Mason
September 15,  2019
Leader(s): David Assmann
# of participants: 25
# of species: 46

The highlights for this trip were a Vaux’s Swift, 2 Pacific-Slope Flycatchers, 5 Warbling Vireos, 2 Red-Breasted Nuthatches, a Bewick’s Wren, a Bullock’s Oriole, a Blackburnian Warbler, 16 Yellow Warblers, 7 Townsend’s Warblers, and 9 Western Tanagers.

Heron’s Head Park
September 14, 2019
Leader(s): Noreen Weeden, Mary Betlach, Angie Geiger, and Eddie Bartley
# of participants: 30
# of species: 30

We found three Black Oystercatchers on today’s trip as well as two Elegant Terns and over a dozen Brown Pelicans.  Two Whimbrels, a Long-billed Curlew and a Common Raven were some of the 30 species.

Walnut Creek Civic Park
September 13, 2019
Leader(s): Steve and Carol Lombardi
# of participants: 9
# of species: 26

Thanks to Michael Strom for alerting us to this nice, under-birded park on his post last week.  On a Golden Gate Audubon bird walk yesterday, we had a nice mix of migrants and residents in the mature trees along the creek. It’s a small park, so we lingered and dawdled our way out to the Iron Horse Trail where we turned around. Birding was slow to begin with, but by the time we quit at about 11:00, the birds were pretty active in the canopy, in spite of (or because of?) the 90 degree temp. The park is nicely landscaped and in general a pleasant venue, although if don’t care for dogs, bicycles, or traffic noise you might find it annoying.

View this checklist online at https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S59771130

Chain of Lakes, Golden Gate Park
September 8, 2019
Leader(s): Mitch Youngman
# of participants: 15
# of species: 37

GGAS led field trip under mostly blue skies, temps of 65-70 and winds less than 5mph. Attended by 15 enthusiastic birders lending their spotting abilities and bird knowledge in a group effort to increase our species total. We managed a good scope view of a male Downy WP preening along with great scope views of both adult and Juv. Red-shouldered Hawks and a couple of Juv. Coopers Hawks screaming endlessly around North Lake. A good raptor walk with Red-tailed Hawks seen mostly on-the-wing. We had several bursts of small song bird activity including a nice bit on a North Lake island yielding our only Common Yellow-throat, several Yellow & Wilson’s Warblers, our only Red-breasted Nuthatch in addition to Pygmy Nuthatch’s, our 2nd Brown Creeper and a persistently calling Nuttall’s WP. Our last species, while technically after the walk ended, was a Double-crested Cormorant on South Lake as three of us headed out of the park.

Albany Mudflats/Albany Bulb
September 8, 2019
Leader(s): Fred Werner
# of participants: 15
# of species: 52

The tide was still all the way up to the fence as we started this month’s visit to the Albany mudflats.  But it receded quickly (right on schedule!) and birds flocked in for brunch on the exposed mud.  A few of highlights included:

– large numbers of an array of shorebirds – esp. Willets and Marbled Godwits – along with several hundred California Gulls

– A pair of dowitchers who unfortunately remained silent

– A red-necked Phalarope, and at least 4 Black Oystercatchers

– 8 spp. of duck, including an early arriving Canvasback and Juvenile / non-breeding plumage Northern Shovelers.

– a few migrants including two Yellow Warblers, 2 Pacific-slope Flycatchers, and at least one other Empidonax sp. (probable Willow Flycatcher).

The birds were counted and reported to eBird on 4 separate lists for 3 hotspots (click on each link for that eBird list): 

(1) Albany Mudflats, as viewed from the pair of observation platforms on Buchanan at the start (~10am) and end (~1:30pm) of the walk.  

(2) McLaughlin Eastshore SP–Albany Access, the uplands area including the Burrowing Owl enclosure and views of the mudflats and open water around it; and

(3) Albany Bulb, the tip of the peninsula including the former homeless camp / open-air art area.

Tilden Park Nature Area
September 6,  2019
# of participants: 38
# of species: 30

A walk to Jewel Lake and back again. Best birds were Townsend’s and Black-throated Gray Warblers in the same tree at the same time, a nice comparison. Also, good long look at Red-shouldered Hawk at the Little Farm. 

The topic was Molting. Woodpeckers molt the central tail feathers last so they can still prop up the bird as outer tail feathers are dropped and replaced. Birds can show a “fright molt”and rapidly drop feathers to escape from a predator’s grasp, or to leave a bunch of feathers as a decoy to escape (like an octopus’s ink plume). The energetic costs to a White-crowned Sparrow for a molt is the equivalent of fully replacing all its body’s protein. 

Salesforce Park, San Francisco
September 1, 2019
Leader(s): Ryan Gilpin
# of participants: 30
# of species: 9

While the birding was not spectacular at Salesforce Park, the weather was, and we spent most of our time focusing on the trees.  I think that I had about 30 people and was lucky to get Mike Sullivan (http://www.sftrees.com/) come and help talk about the trees. The full ebird checklist is at https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S59431270

Evening Bat Walk, Lake Chabot Marina, Castro Valley
August 29, 2019
Leader(s): Susan Ramos, EBRPD Naturalist 
# of participants: 40
# of species: n/r

EBRPD naturalist Susan Ramos assisted by several volunteer docents led about 40 of us on a three mile round trip walk out to Raccoon Point on the south shore of Lake Chabot last Thursday night. When we arrived at the point a little before dusk Barn Swallows were swarming overhead.

The bats were a little uncooperative.  At first, there were only a few and they didn’t start foraging until it was quite dark, making them difficult to see. Susan used her audio bat detector to listen to their vocalizations as they zoomed by and eventually many of us got pretty good looks as the bats zoomed over our heads.

Based on the various frequencies of their voices, Susan said that we were hearing mainly Big Brown or Mexican Free-tails (lower pitch) and various species of Myotis (higher pitch).  The walk started at 7:00 and we got back to the parking lot about 9:30. In spite of the relative difficulty in seeing the bats, it was a very pleasant evening, and everyone seemed to have a good time.

Lake Merritt
August 28, 2019
Leader(s): Hilary Powers and Ruth Tobey
# of participants: 18
# of species: 32

All our walkers eagerly scanned the water for a glimpse of the Red-necked Phalarope seen there the preceding Friday, but couldn’t find it.   It would have been our first-ever sighting at the lake.  

We had plenty to see anyway – both White and Brown Pelicans (lots of them) and all five of the expected herons, including more Great Egrets than have appeared at the same time in years, plus respectable numbers of Snowy Egrets and Black-crowned Night-Herons of all ages, one Great Blue Heron, and two tiny Green Herons, one adult and one juvenile. The female Belted Kingfisher announced herself with her clattering call (with no juvenile to answer this time), and some Forster’s Terns visited the floats for the first August since 2011.

On the near island, a mama raccoon led three kits – all normal coon-colored this time, no blondes – in a search for muscles or barnacles or anything else eatable. Charming as long as they stay on the rocks, but we had to worry about all the bird-based protein the creatures might find among the bushes or in the freshwater pond hidden back there. (A pond? On the island? Yup – you could see it by standing on a bench right after the DD restoration work finished, but the bushes have since grown too high. Its water is piped in to provide a sheltered alternative to the brackish lake.)

Over in the park, the biggest treat was offered by the Brown Creepers working the oaks near the garden compost station – demurely elegant little streaky brown birds with long curved bills, working their way straight up the trunks or out along the undersides of branches. Otherwise, it was mainly the quiet-season regulars: Titmice and Chestnut-backed Chickadees and California Towhees and American Robins. (Why specify American Robin? We wouldn’t see anything else here, after all, but it’s still worth noting that it isn’t at all the same bird Shakespeare wrote about. The European Robin is a red-faced and red-breasted gray flycatcher with a white belly rather like a Black Phoebe’s; ours has breast plumage roughly the same shade, but it’s a thrush and twice the size.)

The day was overcast and cool, making for a lovely silvery light on the lake but probably reducing activity in the park, where sun would bring out the bugs and the birds to chase them. All told, we saw 32 species – down from last year’s 38 but well up from the high 20s of the two preceding years – and it was as ever a very good day to spend at Lake Merritt.

Albany Mud Flats/Bulb
August 24, 2019
Leader(s): Fred Werner
# of participants: 47
# of species: 47

The fog lifted, the tide receded, and the birds (and birders!) descended on the Albany mudflats.   Nearly 50 people showed up to take in the arrival of shorebirds and other migrants.  A few of the highlights included:

– large numbers of a wide array of shorebirds – sandpipers, plovers, whimbrels, curlews, godwits, dowitchers, willets, avocets, etc.

– Black-bellied Plovers in a range of molting status, from still wearing their (not quite finest) breeding plumage to clear drab winter plumage.

– an Osprey flying over at least 5 times (or was that 5 different Ospreys?)

– an early arriving Canvasback and Juvenile / non-breeding plumage Northern Shovelers.

– an exceptionally close encounter with a rather naive juvenile Brown-headed Cowbird

As usual, this walk covered 3 eBird hotspots (click on each link for that eBird list): 

(1) Albany Mudflats, as viewed from the pair of observation platforms on Buchanan.  

(2) McLaughlin Eastshore SP–Albany Access,, the uplands area including the Burrowing Owl enclosure and views of the mudflats and open water around it; and

(3) Albany Bulb, the tip of the peninsula including the former homeless camp / open-air art area.

Elsie Roemer Bird Sanctuary, Alameda
August 22,  2019
Leader(s): Sharol Embry
# of participants: 8
# of species: 33

We had a wonderful morning with eight of us. The tide was 3.3 ft outgoing and we had a whopping 350 brown pelicans on the mudflats to start our day along with a notable red-necked phalarope (juvenile) and shorebirds aplenty! An eBird list has been submitted including good numbers of Black-bellied Plovers and Marbled Godwits.

Fort Mason
August 18,  2019
Leader(s): David Assmann
# of participants: 52
# of species: 45

The highlights for the August trip were a Western Kingbird, 3 Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers, 2 Hooded Orioles, 1 Orange-Crowned Warbler, 12 Yellow Warblers, 2 Bullock’s Orioles and 4 Western Tanagers.

Hayward Regional Shoreline from San Leandro to Hayward Bike and Bird
August 3,  2019
Leader(s): Kathy Bleier and Pat Greene
# of participants: 8
# of species: 47

Eight of us biked and birded a round trip of 10 miles along Hayward Regional Shoreline from San Leandro Marina south to Frank’s Dump.   We started on a rising tide of about -0.5 ft and reached Oro Marsh and Frank’s Dump high tide roosts at perfect 4 to 5 ft tides by 1:30 PM.  It was a lovely day, mostly sunny and 65 to 75 degrees (nice and warm compared with our usual winter ride).  We had no ducks but an abundance of resident, returning and migrating shorebirds.  Those still in breeding plumage included Black-bellied Plovers, Red Knots, Dowitchers, Marbled Godwits, Western Sandpipers, Red-necked Phalarope and Willets.  We also saw a number of immature birds, including Black-necked Stilts, Common Gallinules (4 with 2 adults in a tiny pond sandwiched among houses) and a Black Oystercatcher (with 2 adults).  We also saw 2 Ridgway Rails and heard a third.   All in all, a very fun day.  Ebird list:  https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S58782942.  

Tilden Park Nature Area
August 2,  2019
Leader(s): Alan Kaplan
# of participants: 31
# of species: 31

We  walked to Jewel Lake by the road and back by the lower Pack Rat Trail. Bird o’the Day was White-throated Swift, though 6 juvenile Dark-eyed Juncos were pretty cute! Thanks to Honored Guests Denise Wight and Dave Quady for attending.

Mountain View Cemetery
July 28, 2019
Leader(s): Ryan Gilpin
# of participants: 40
# of species: 32

Some trip highlights included Dark eyed Junco parents feeding their young, a pair of Brown Creepers, many Western Bluebirds, three Swallow species (Northern Rough-winged, Barn and Violet-green) and a pair of Hutton’s Vireos.  The complete list is on ebird at https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S58521852  

Point Pinole
July 27, 2019
Leader(s): Fred Werner
# of participants: 40
# of species: 40

A beautiful day of birding at Point Pinole!  The number of birders roughly equaled the number of species sighted:  40.   Fred Werner, a volunteer trip leader with the Golden Gate Audubon Society, led this group which had a broad range of experiences, including at least 2 first time birders.  

Though the tide was officially dropping, it never got low enough to expose the vast mudflats on either side of the point.  The whole group went out onto a sandy beach on the west side for views of an exposed rocky shoreline where a RUDDY TURNSTONE and a BLACK OYSTERCATCHER were perusing the rocks for food, along with a Spotted Sandpiper and a dozen or more Semipalmated Plovers.  Ospreys put on quite a show: at least 4 adults were fishing on the west side, while 3 were in a nest near the pier at the tip of the point.  For a while, 5 Ospreys were visible in one scope view / photo frame around the nest.  WESTERN BLUEBIRDS were another highlight, with active pairs or parents feeding young visible at several points along the way.  And those who stuck around till the end were rewarded with a BARN OWL in a palm tree near the entrance to the park.  

Gunfire from the not-far-enough-in-the-distance gun club to the west made birding by ear a bit more of a challenge, though it remains unclear whether that kept the diversity and abundance of shorebirds and waterbirds as low as it was.  Another distant distraction was a large flaming flare-off, apparently from the Chevron plant to the west.  Thankfully, one of our California State Senators was on the trip and was able to call it in!

For more details and photos of some of the birds we saw, see the eBird list:  https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S58507192

Lake Merritt
July 24, 2019
Leader(s): Hilary Powers and Ruth Tobey
# of participants: 16
# of species: 32

I strolled up to the globe cage about 15 minutes before the 9:30 start time to be greeted by the rattling flight calls of Belted Kingfishers. Kingfishers plural. We haven’t seen a kingfisher on the walk at all since last November, and had a pair only once before, then as now a female and a juvenile flying around and chattering to each other in glorious stereo. They soon vanished from sight – but reappeared to pose for everyone who attended the walk.

The floats carried several Brown Pelicans, one lounging in an almost unrecognizable heap, a few Double-crested Cormorants (ignoring the now-empty nests in the island trees), some assorted gulls, and some terns – mostly Forster’s Terns, though we made a spirited effort to turn one of them into a similar but oddly enough much rarer Common Tern, which flew off leaving the question undecided. Several Least Terns  also visited the floats. They’ve bred in Alameda for years, and we saw them last year in May, but that was the first recorded instance since I started keeping track back in 2009.

Then a Green Heron – the first noted on one of these walks since last September – flew in and prowled along the rocks on the near island. “Why do they call it green?” a new birder asked, observing its elegant cinnamon-and-cream breast, dark slaty back, black head, and brilliant orange legs. “It does sound like one of those names,” sez I. “And it’s not green the way a Great Blue Heron is blue – but if the sun hits it just right, you’ll see a sort of green sheen across the back. I’ve spotted that maybe twice in my life.” Bird names; expect logic and you’ll go mad.

Over in the park across Bellevue, I got my scope on a young Cooper’s Hawk sitting erect high in a pine tree – a wonderful view of the weird teardrops that marked its breast. When I turned to see where everyone was and wave them forward, they were all in a bunch half a block back, looking assiduously away from me. Eventually they straggled reluctantly up with an air of oh-yeah-a-coop-that’s-nice; they’d just been looking at a Western Tanager which we recorded only twice before, on the May 2010 and September 2016 walks – and the normally exciting hawk just couldn’t compare. Gnrrrr; if I’d stayed back, I coulda seen the tanager too and still picked up the coop.

All told and despite clinging to patches of shade instead of traipsing down the lake toward El Embarcadero, we (collectively, drat it) observed 32 species of birds – about right for the time of year  making it absolutely yet another good day at Lake Merritt, where every day is a good day..

Fort Mason
July 21, 2019
Leader(s): David Assmann
# of participants: n/r
# of species: 39

On yesterday’s GGAS field trip we had 39 species at Fort Mason, with the highlights being an HOODED ORIOLE family with newly fledged young birds (we saw five Orioles total – mostly in the garden), two NUTTALL’S WOODPECKERS in the Battery, and a RED-THROATED LOON in Aquatic Park.

Point Isabel, Richmond
 July 19, 2019
Leader(s): Cathy Bleier
# of participants: 13
# of species: 41

Thirteen of us walked along the SF Bay Trail on a rising tide (<0 to 2.5 ft) from the dog park to a little past Meeker Slough, and then up Meeker Slough. A typical summer day of 62-68 degrees, breezy, with the sun emerging partway through the walk.  Lots of Brown Pelicans, Marbled Godwits and Long-billed Curlews and numerous peeps too far out in the low-tide bay.  There were a few White-crowned Sparrows; were they returning or the year-round resident subspecies nutalli?).  We also had terrific views of a Ridgway Rail walking the banks of the slough below 51st St. bridge.  The most entertaining moments of the trip, however, were provided by the Great Blue Heron’s lunch, well-photographed by Isaac Aronow.  An angler friend thinks it’s a striped bass of 12-14 inches (upper limit in my opinion; you decide), which would weigh 1-2+ lbs, or from a quarter to half the weight of an adult 4-5+ pound bird.  After finally, fully ingesting it, the heron climbed up the bank and stayed put.  I doubted it would be flying any time soon.  In all, we saw 41 species.  Ebird list at https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S58321015.  

Mount Sutro Open Space Park, San Francisco
July 6, 2019
Leader(s): Whitney Grover and Pat Greene
# of participants: 19
# of species: 17

Bird of the day was Song Sparrow, with over two dozen heard or seen.  There were also good numbers of Pygmy Nuthatches and Pacific Wrens and  an always welcome Swainson’s Thrush.   The full report is on eBird.

Tilden Nature Area
July 5, 2019
Leader(s): Alan Kaplan
# of participants: 48
# of species: 44

Our monthly walk was to Jewel Lake and back again by way of the boardwalk. 

Highlights were White-tailed Kites, Raven nest with young, woodpecker hat-trick (Downy, Hairy and Nuttall’s), Barn Swallow nest with young in Cow Barn at the Little Farm. MoB (many observers) of 48 included visitors from Ohio and India.  View this checklist online at https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S57961424

San Francisco Presidio
June 30, 2019
Leader(s): Ryan Gilpin
# of participants: 25
# of species:  28

The highlight was definitely that Jonathan Young from the Trust joined us and talked about the restoration projects, helped us ID plants and mammals, etc.  The complete ebird list is at https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S57817703  We had a flyover Peregrine Falcon, a group of Pygmy Nuthatches including some recently fledged young and some juvenile Hooded Orioles.

Lake Merritt
June 26, 2019
Leader(s):  Hilary Powers and Ruth Tobey
# of participants: 16
# of species:  30

This year’s molt migration was well established for tobey’s walk: every resident goose and all the incomers looking peculiarly slim with the ends of their wings bare. But there were only hundreds (or maybe hundreds and hundreds) of geese, not the multiple thousands seen in earlier years. The re-sprouting process is a slow-moving show: keep an eye on the birds in the first half of July, and you’ll start to see weird turquoise panels along their sides, where the new quills look like bones or wire until the barbs emerge. (And it is a migration and not a population explosion – among all those geese, we saw only three goslings, half adult size and shaggy gray all over like stuffed toys.)

Aside from one black and white Greater Scaup drake swimming down by the El Embarcadero fountain – almost certainly a winter holdover, though we didn’t see him last month – the most interesting denizens of the lake were of all things the Mallards, who almost all looked like hens to anyone not in on the secret: In June, the drakes go into what’s called eclipse plumage, but you can still recognize them by their yellow bills. Hens have orange bills, making them the brighter sex for the six weeks or so of eclipse season.

Hank-the-rescue-pelican had eight companions lounging with him (or maybe it’s her; I’ve been told but don’t believe) on one of the islands, all comfortably smooth-billed and hormone-free at last, and a couple of Brown Pelicans also showed up, ignoring the whites as usual. The island nests were empty again, but twenty or thirty Double-crested Cormorants (mostly adults, sans crests) perched on the floats.

Lots and lots of swallows – all either Violet-green or brown Northern Rough-winged – skimmed the lawns, competing with the Black Phoebes and Western Bluebirds for what seemed to be a bumper crop of crunchy flying snacks. This entertaining sight might have had something to do with the Canada Goose molt migration, come to think of it, which does fill the grass with crunchy-flying-snack attractors….

In the park and garden, birding was made unusually challenging by a brisk but fitful breeze that kept the dense leaves moving whether or not anyone was hopping around among them. We did see many of the usual residents anyway: a stripe-backed Nuttall’s Woodpecker, several gray-crested Oak Titmice, one Chestnut-backed Chickadee (a relief after two months with none at all), and a pair of Bushtits.­ So we were well entertained, and even though the species count  was June’s lowest since 2015, everyone had a good day at Lake Merritt, where every day is good in its own way. 

Wetlands Edge
June 23, 2019
Leader(s): Fred Werner
# of participants: 40+
# of species: 52

On  a warm sunny Sunday, over 40 people showed up in American Canyon to bird the Wetlands Edge.  American Canyon’s suburban bedroom neighborhoods end at the aptly named Wetlands Edge, a series of broad paths meandering around ponds and along the tidal middles of the lower Napa River.  

Highlights included two families of Swans with adorable cygnets (a new word for some).  Right as the group returned to the parking lot, we were treated to a Bullock’s Oriole putting on a show singing and flying between trees.  And at the half-way point, we clearly heard a WHITE-THROATED SPARROW.  Luckily, one participant had a microphone and specialized audio equipment enabling him to record the sound and post in on the eBird list.

We saw at least 52 species (likely more: for example roughly half the gulls we saw we couldn’t identify to species).

Another highlight was a squadron of American White Pelicans, one of our largest birds, circling seemingly incessantly,  and once we stopped mistaking those birds for planes, a squadron of fighter jets flew by as well.  We also saw five species of shorebirds, not bad for late June!

Find photos, details and the full list on eBird: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S57641398

Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve
June 14, 2019
Leader(s): Cathy Bleier
# of participants: 10
# of species: 34

Eleven of us stumbled around in an incredibly foggy summer morning (glad we didn’t get an earlier start!), hearing some but seeing few birds for the first hour.  When the fog lifted the first bird in view was a Lazuli Bunting, singing its heart out atop a conveniently visible  shrub.  Shortly thereafter the Rufous-crowned Sparrow got into the viewing action, leaving the comfort of its sagebrush patch to sing atop the next shrub.  Many usual suspects joined up, i.e. Lark Sparrows, Western Bluebirds, Lesser Goldfinches, hummers and Towhees, while others,  e.g. raptors and woodpeckers, were absent  (perhaps busy feeding young or already hiding and molting?).  All in all, we had a nice 2.75 mile walk and saw 34 species.  View the list on eBird https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S57524278

Presidio to Inspiration Point, San Francisco
June 14, 2019
Leader(s): Mitch Youngman
# of participants: 5
# of species: 27

Today’s walk was under clouds and a fog drip with temps beginning @ about 55f rising to low 60’s with barely a sunny spot to be had, though the drip ceased early. Regardless, we managed a reasonable 27 species due to good spotting by the group with extra help from Erica, which netted us great views of: a Brown Creeper, voted best bird of walk; a Red-shouldered Hawk evidently hunting from a wire; a remarkably cooperative Olive-sided Flycatcher which could not sing enough nor be seen enough from numerous trees. One good front-on view of a Red-tailed Hawk was a treat as was a short look at a Wilson’s Warbler. We tried to track down a heard Pacific Wren with no success. Juvenile Dark-eyed Juncos and White-crowned Sparrows associated with adults which, along with Song Sparrows, were abundant, calling and likely under-counted.

View this checklist online at https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S57370586

Tilden Park Nature Area
June 7,  2019
Leader(s): Alan Kaplan
# of participants: 38
# of species: 31

We walked to Jewel Lake and back again. Today’s theme was “Summer Complaints” (a “Mash Goes to Maine” reference), those birds that are our summer visitors, where they come from and when they arrive. Party of 38 observers included Honored Guest, Dave Quady, one of our long-time leaders and Christmas Count organizers. We saw 31 species; highlights were

*American White Pelican (8) flying south parallel to the Berkeley Hills.

*Nesting Warbling Vireo. See photo at eBird checklist listed below, thanks to Lee Friedman.

*Olive-sided Flycatchers (at least 5) and Swainson’s Thrush (at least 5).

Details on Summer Visitors arrival dates and overwintering sites at the checklist.View this checklist online at https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S57248717

Lake Merritt
May 29, 2019
Leader(s): Hilary Powers and Ruth Tobey
# of participants: 20
# of species: 36

AND THEN… on the second 4th-Wednesday walk (a week later, resulting from calendar inattention and promises made), GGAS joined up with Audubon California to celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month at the lake. We had binoculars to pass out, heritage stories, and bird lore, on top of a beautiful warm stroll that picked up the Chestnut-backed Chickadees missed the week before. It also revealed several species rarely encountered here: Lots of Least Terns showed off their brilliant yellow beaks on the floats (many more than the three encountered here in May 2018, which were the first recorded on this walk since we started keeping track in 2009), and a female Common Goldeneye (the first ever in May) swam between the islands. Under the trees along Bellevue, a Cackling Goose (pint-size cousin of the Canada Geese not seen here since January 2013) joined the early molt migration. And a White Pelican, the first counted in May since 2015, flew in to sit with Hank-the-Rescue-Pelican in the bird paddock – though perhaps we shouldn’t have been surprised; Hank almost always has company in June and this was very late for a May walk. So it was yet another great day; perhaps the calendar keeper should always figure a month has two 4th Wednesdays instead of a 5th….

Alameda Creek Trail to Coyote Hills Regional Park Bike Trip
May 25,  2019
Leader(s): Cathy Bleier and Pat Greene
# of participants: 7
# of species: 48

It was a mostly sunny and very comfortable day for bike riding and birding, especially since we usually do this route in the winter months.  Nine of us biked from Union City BART down  Alameda Creek Trail, to the Bayview Trail along the marsh to Coyote Hills Regional Park Visitor Center and back out to Paseo Parkway, Ardenwood Blvd and Alameda Creek Trail.  Alameda Creek had less water than expected, given the season’s rains, but it was lush with bank to bank vegetation, mostly tule sedges.  It almost eclipsed the lone Wood Duck and provided great hiding habitat for many singing Yellowthroats (though one finally generously roosted on a transmission tower post right in front of us). Waders were plentiful (many Black-crowned Night Herons and Snowy and Great Egrets), while shorebirds were non-existent except for a Killdeer.   There were a few remaining ducks, many swallows and one Great-tailed Grackle.  The most notable item of the day for me, however, was the lack of a single Coot sighting.  Is that even possible?  Still, we saw 48 species, even with the summer no-shows.  The complete list can be found at https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S56760738

Briones East Bay Regional Park
May 23, 2019
Leader(s): Cathy Bleier
# of participants: 13
# of species: 40

It was a mostly overcast day with mild temperatures and an enthusiastic group of bird watchers.  Fourteen of us explored The Bear Creek Staging Area parking lots and picnic area and walked up the Abrigo Trail to Maud Whalen and slightly beyond for a round trip of about 2.5 miles.  The birds were initially vocal though not visible, so we focused our listening skills and  tuned our skills as we walked.  When we reached the Maud Whalen site, all the targeted species showed: a group of 5 or more Bullock’s Orioles with at least 3 adult males, Western Kingbirds, Lark Sparrows and a pavilion full of Barn Swallows with young, some fledged and some still in nests. A few Lazuli Buntings appeared along the way out and back.  We saw or heard a total of 40 species. The complete list for today’s walk is at https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S56703895

Lake Merritt
May 22, 2019
Leader(s): Hilary Powers and Ruth Tobey
# of participants: 10
# of species: 33

Big news for today’s walk: the bare trees on the islands were jumping with Double-crested Cormorants. Only two or three birds still showed crests (one with only one), but all (except for a few fledglings) were focused on the nests: guarding them, sitting in them, accepting sticks to add to them. It was business as formerly usual at Lake Merritt, as though the flock hadn’t disappeared in April. No knowing what happened – not the weather; the day was as sunny as the April walk, though less hot, as pleasant a change from that day as from the “Mayuary” pattern earlier in the week. Perhaps the new Bay Bridge nest sites filled up after all?

A  Green Heron – our first since last September – landed on the rocky edge of the island nearest the Nature Center, fossicking along and offering fine views until it met a raccoon doing the same in the opposite direction, at which point it flew off around the island and away. Sigh. Everyone loves to see raccoons at the lake – and hates the thought of them there. They’re cute cute cute, and this one was harmlessly munching on mussels and barnacles, but birds’ eggs are their true favorite food. Green Herons are just one of many species that nest low enough for an island-swimming raccoon to raid.

A pair of Black Phoebes had three new fledglings parked in the maroon-leafed tree by the Nature Center, and we spent a long time watching the babies huddle together and then push themselves forward to be the one to get the bug when a parent appeared. The light was glorious, and we could easily see the remains of the yellow gape beside the babies’ beaks and the chestnut edging on their black wing covert feathers. (Later, over by the Garden Center, we passed a spot where several phoebe couples had their babies stashed together – eight little guys looking for lunch – but they were in dark shade and didn’t draw more than an admiring look.)

Molt migration seems to have started early this year. At any rate, the lawn along Bellevue had a lot more Canada Geese than last month. They could still fly, but a few wing feathers were lying about as a sign of crowding to come. Probably not all that much crowding, though – I expect several hundred birds, which sounds like a lot,  but ten years ago it was a couple of thousand; it felt like you could walk across that lawn without stepping off a goose. So watch your feet and comfort yourself with the thought that it won’t last long; the migrants will all be gone by the end of July, and we’ll be back to the few dozen descendants of the group that was carefully established here back when the species was seen as endangered.

In the park and garden, we were startled to find no Chestnut-backed Chickadees at all. They’re virtually always here! Off in nest cavities and out of sight, most likely. The Oak Titmice (usually the chickadees’ constant companions) were out in force, introducing their fluttering fledglings to the idea that Mom and Dad aren’t constant providers anymore. It must be an awful letdown for a young bird to discover that the signals that always used to produce meals no longer work, no matter how earnestly you chase your parents to remind them of their duty, but it’s fun to watch.

All told, we saw 33 species, about normal for the month, with a few local rarities – Mourning Doves, House Sparrows, a Downy Woodpecker – making up for the absence of the expected bluebirds and chickadees. And thinking of bluebirds, a park worker stopped to ask us about several birds he’d seen on the job, describing one the size of a sparrow that was all brilliant blue (no trace of red or pink), which had to be a Mountain Bluebird, something no one in the group had ever seen here. Missed out on it this month, but we’ll keep looking!

So yet again Lake Merritt provided a very good day, and a more comfortable good day than the last few we’ve had there….

California Nursery Fremont
May 19, 2019
Leader(s): Ryan Gilpin
# of participants: 6
# of species: 28

We had a great, small, and (surprisingly) dry bird and tree walk at California Nursery in Fremont on Sunday morning.

Quite a bit of bird breeding activity, and 28 species is probably pretty good for such a small site.  And the trees are always great there.  You can view the  complete checklist at https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S56529495  

Castle Rocks/Pine Canyon 
May 18, 2019
Leader(s): Megan Jankowski
# of participants: 7
# of species: 39

The threat of rain seemed to keep most people away today, but the weather held long enough for a pleasant walk through this beautiful area. I advertised this walk as focusing on nesting and fledgling activity, and we were very successful in that regard. We were greatly benefited by the presence of  Tracy Farrington of Mount Diablo Audubon, who has birded this area for 20 years and had located several nests in recent weeks.

The parking lot was loud with Lesser Goldfinches, and a Eurasian Collared Dove called from the top of a pole. Not far from the parking lot we saw a male Western Bluebird removing a fecal sac from a nest box, indicating nestlings were inside. Slightly further along we got a brief but good look at a male Western Tanager, our only of the day.

Tracy took us to an area behind the pool with a group of locust trees that were very active with House Finches. These trees also held a Western Kingbird nest and a Bullock’s Oriole nest. Scoping the oriole nest, we could see that its pinkish color was due to gift wrap ribbon that was used to construct the nest. A reminder to clean up after having your birthday parties at the picnic tables! A Black Phoebe nest hung under the eaves of the restroom building, but we did not linger to watch for activity.

Further up the trail we came to a broken snag whereTracy had found a House Wren nest. We watched as the adults carried food into the nest, and studied the parents as they perched on the nearby barbed wire. In this same area was a pair of striking Lark Sparrows.

We were lucky that a docent was still monitoring the Peregrine Falcon nest up on Castle Rocks and could point us to its location. The mother was clearly visible, and after some waiting we were rewarded with a view of the nestling as the mother got up to stretch. The father was also perched nearby.

Heading back, we came across a group of Bushtits with recently fledged young. The difference between the adults and fledglings is fairly subtle, but the fledglings had lighter throats and a “fresher” look, as well as being slightly smaller and shorter-billed. At one point two of the fledglings sat huddled, side by side on a branch.

We came across another family group, this time Oak Titmice. In this case the fledglings appeared quite a bit browner than the gray of the adults. Full list here: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S56452023

Yosemite National Park
May 17-18  2019
Leader(s): Dave Quady and David Cornman
# of participants: 10
# of species: 44

Amid a ten-day long stretch of cool, unsettled weather that dropped rain and snow onto western Yosemite National Park, ten birders joined the leaders in hopes that a forecasted break in the storm of 24 to 30 hours would provide enjoyable and productive birding. It did.

Temperatures were well below normal: 32 degrees at dawn on Saturday to a high of less than 50 degrees mid-day, which depressed bird activity overall. We enjoyed mostly sunny skies until late morning Saturday, when clouds built up, foreshadowing the resumption of rain. We ended the trip at 2:00 pm. Heavy winter snowfalls had kept the Tioga Road closed just above its intersection with Highway 120, so our birding was limited to an elevation band between about 4,600 ft. (at Mud Lake) and 6,640 ft. (at Crane Flat Lookout). Because our trip was a full day shorter than usual we were unable to bird many of our favorite locations, such as the Foresta and Big Meadow area, Foresta Falls, and the Merced River Overlook.

Our ‘official’ trip list (of birds heard or seen by at least one leader and one participant) totaled 44 species, only about fifteen below average – pretty good considering the handicaps we faced.

The list includes no rarities, but many species that figuratively sing out “Yosemite!” – Mountain Quail, White-headed Woodpecker, Mountain Chickadee, Mountain Bluebird, Townsend’s Solitaire, Hermit Warbler, and Western Tanager. Hummingbirds were absent and flycatcher species were in short supply, but we enjoyed more Olive-sided Flycatchers than on any other trip in memory.

Happily, we found Great Gray Owls, the quintessential Yosemite species. Our experience was wonderful … a pair of birds, with the male seen carrying prey in flight; vocalizations heard from both birds; and leisurely scope views of a perched bird facing us, showing off its white ‘bow tie’ and its seemingly tiny yellow eyes set in a massive pale gray facial disk. It was memorable.

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

Hilltop Lake Park
May 14,  2019
Leader(s): Cathy Bleier
# of participants: 6
# of species: 32

It was nice to bird my patch with company again, though it was overcast, chilly and threatening rain for a May day.   No orioles showed up (we’ve had both Bullock’s and, more recently, Hooded), but we were treated to a Western Tanager instead (there was one there a week or 2 ago).  A pair of Green Herons continues in the lake; might they breed here?  One Mallard chick is left since my last visit, and there’s no sign of American Coot, Pied-billed Grebe or Gallinule chicks at this time (or adult Gallinule, for that matter).  A river otter has come to town, so I fear for the chicks.  Ah, nature, red in tooth and claw.  We saw an oddly large gathering of California Gulls, a Nuttall’s male feeding a juvenile in the cavity, more swallows than we could identify in the gray light, a skunk, a doe and too many cats.  Good company and thirty-two species: a fine day for my favorite hidden gem.  Ebird list:  https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S56290067.  

Chain of Lakes, Golden Gate Park
May 12,  2019
Leader(s): Mitch Youngman and Bonnie Brown
# of participants: 12
# of species: 31

We started and ended our walk under overcast skies with little wind to 5mph, temps about 55-60F. 12 eager participants ranging form new birder on 1st bird walk to seasoned birders able to help us locate several species by call, the heard Common Yellow-throat being one and a pretty good look at a Pacific Wren being another. The whole group had great views of the Allen’s Hummingbird flaring it’s gorget, not so lucky with our short views of several Wilson’s Warblers. One lone female Ruddy Duck in North Lake was unusual as was one call from a Northern Flicker. We ended with scope views of a Red-tailed Hawk on a nest.View this checklist online at https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S56184966

Tilden Park Nature Area
May 3,  2019
Leader(s): Alan Kaplan
# of participants: 32
# of species: 30

We walked from the parking lot entrance to Jewel Lake and back again. Guests from Ontario, Canada and Bangalore (Bengaluru), Karnataka, India. Our topic was Nathan Pieplow’s brand-new Peterson Field Guide to Bird Sounds of Western North America. See the accompanying websites petersonbirdsounds.com <http://petersonbirdsounds.com/> and earbirding.com <http://earbirding.com/> for details. Nathan spoke to GGAS last year.  View this checklist online at https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S55743756

Tilden Regional Park Dawn Chorus (5:30 to 7:45 am)
May 3,  2019
Leader(s): Alan Kaplan
# of participants: 11
# of species: 26

This is the weekend of the International Dawn Chorus Day (Sunday, May 5) and we do the Dawn Chorus on the closest Friday. We started listening to Black-headed Grosbeak, California Towhee at 0530, meeting at Big Leaf picnic site at the foot of Canon Drive.

View this checklist online at https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S55743098

Mines Road/Del Valle/San Antonio Valley
April 26, 2019
Leader(s): Steve and Carol Lombardi
# of participants: 15
# of species: 68

We all enjoyed the sunny (not to say hot) weather.  As usual, the birding along the lower elevations of Mines Rd. and in Del Valle Regional Park was pretty good.  Unfortunately, the birding further south was pretty slow.  However, we had good looks at Lewis’s Woodpeckers in San Antonio Valley and the wildflowers there were pretty amazing.

Lake Merritt
April 24, 2019
Leader(s): Hilary Powers and Ruth Tobey
# of participants: 20
# of species:  38

“Welcome to the June 4th-Wednesday Golden Gate Audubon Walk at Lake Merritt,” I said to the 20-odd people gathered on April 24. The sun beat down, the cormorant nests were empty, and the surface almost bare of birds. High summer indeed; it felt like I might as well have called it July.

On closer look, it wasn’t that bad.  A Forster’s Tern gobbled a fish on one of the floats, and an adult Double-crested Cormorant (still with crests) sat beside a nearly white-breasted bronze fledgling on two others. (Cormorants did nest here this year – but it looks like only one cycle, down from two last year and three the year before. Seems like everybody who wanted a nest site found one somewhere when the season started, so no one had to wait for second place.) A Snowy Egret flew past the dome cage, trailing buttercup-yellow feet, and landed on the rocks by the little restoration swamp that replaced part of the boathouse parking lot.

And when we walked around the bird paddock, both adult and juvenile Black-crowned Night-Herons were cooling their toes in the fresh water, along with a Mallard drake catching the sun at a strange angle, making his head shine a clear deep blue instead of green. Hank-the-rescue-pelican strutted around the fenced work area, flapping his scar-bound wing and showing off the breeding-ready bump on his beak.

Along the lake shore – where we stayed off the path and scurried from shady tree to shady tree – we were treated to a surprising array of leftover winter migrants. No great numbers of any one kind, but perhaps a dozen Scaup, both Greater and Lesser and both black-headed drakes and brown hens, plus a couple of dozen Ruddy Ducks (the males truly ruddy at last) and three or four female Bufflehead. Two Eared Grebes showed off their copper, gold, and steel breeding plumage, and six of the large grebes – five Western and a Clark’s, more than  I’ve seen here in years – cruised through the sheltered waters between the islands and El Embarcadero. Two of the Westerns paid serious attention to one another, dipping their heads and preening each other and themselves together in a sort of dance, and we spent a few breathless minutes watching them and hoping they’d rise into a side-by-side run along the surface, but a third bird swam up and they drifted apart.

The park and garden had most of the usual residents except Chestnut-backed Chickadees, which we always expect but missed last April too for some reason. Could they be finding nest sites hard to find? They like cavities in dead branches, and the park service has been careful to get rid of deadwood to avoid injury to visitors. The Oak Titmice seem to have solved that problem – the copper street light poles tend to have holes at about lamp level, and we saw two of them with the little gray birds darting in and out. The area also had some locally uncommon birds: A European Starling (not seen in April since 2014) swaggered around the bowling green, showing off its brilliant gold bill, scarlet legs, and iridescent black breeding plumage. At the bare top of a tree across from the garden center, a pair of Brown-headed Cowbirds – the shining black male living up to the species name and the dust-pale female like a ghostly small shadow – perched as for a formal portrait, and in the sensory garden, a pair of Lesser Goldfinches enjoyed the rock fountain, the male standing alertly near the edge while the female wallowed and splashed, sending water higher than his head.

So it turned out to be a good day (not that all days at the lake are not good in their own fashion); in fact, surprisingly after the grim start, a very good day, with 37 species observed- the most for April since 2015, and that was only 38- and we wandered off happily to lunch around 12:15.

Fort Mason
April 21 2019
Leader(s): David Assmann
# of participants: 
# of species: 

We had lots of warbler and oriole activity for today’s GGAS trip.  In addition to the continuing ORCHARD ORIOLE in the garden, there were three BULLOCK’S ORIOLES (1 in the garden and two behind the General’s House), and at least 7 HOODED ORIOLES (3-4 behind the General’s House, 2-3 in Battery and one in the garden).  Warblers seen (mostly in the garden) including ORANGE-CROWNED, YELLOW,  NASHVILLE, YELLOW-RUMPED, TOWNSEND’S AND WILSON’S.  There are now at least eight active ANNA’S HUMMINGBIRD NESTS  (two have chicks that barely fit that will fledge soon).  The WANDERING TATTLER was on the shore of Aquatic Park, and a PIGEON GUILLEMOT and a COMMON MURRE swam close together near the Fort Mason Piers.  The bonus was a young ELEPHANT SEAL  on the beach at Aquatic Park.

East Bay Photo Birdathon Trip (Garin/Hayward Regional Shoreline)
March 31, 2019
Leader(s):  Glenn Tepke
# of participants: n/r
# of species:  68

Yesterday (March 31)  a team of intrepid bird photographers participating in the Golden Gate Audubon Birdathon field trip, Birds! Camera! Action! ­ East Bay Photo Day, visited Garin Regional Park and Hayward Regional Shoreline, both in Hayward.  We saw or heard 68 species, and got photos of most of them.  Highlights at Garin included a mix of lingering winter visitors like Ring-necked Ducks, and recent spring arrivals , such as Bullock’s and Hooded Orioles, and a few vocal but invisible Pacific-slope Flycatchers.  At Hayward we had 11 species of shorebirds, a trio of fly-by Caspian Terns, and a nice side-by side comparison of Western and Clark’s Grebes.  I scouted both locations 3/29 – 3/30 and had a few additional species that we missed on Sunday, including Western Kingbird and Warbling Vireo at Garin, and Black Oystercatcher and American Pipit at Hayward.

Lake Merritt
March 27, 2019
Leader(s):  Hilary Powers and Ruth Tobey
# of participants: 20
# of species:  32

Where did the Lake Merritt Cormorants go?  As people gathered for today’s walk, that was the question everyone raised. The trees had fewer nests than usual for this time of year, and all of them – no, all but one – looked empty. But then a cormorant flew in and disappeared, and the bird that had been standing up vanished too without flying away. That made it seem likely that many of the nests were occupied by birds hunkered down against the chilly wind, protecting eggs that should be nearly ready to hatch. No way to tell for sure, though activity did pick up during a break in the weather around 11 am and we were even treated to a mating session in one of the nests. None of which explains why the nest count is down, of course – perhaps the rookery carefully constructed under the new Bay Bridge is finally luring the birds away.

The weather was the worst for the walk in several years, with steady rain interspersed with lighter periods and one burst of sun, but more often with near-tropical cells. Staff at the Rotary Nature Center let the group shelter inside for the heaviest downpour, but people began to drift away. When we finally called it a bit after 11, the initial group of 20 daring birders had dwindled to 5 truly intrepid souls, plus the leaders (who dithered back and forth about crossing the lawn to the garden before deciding that the slog had been long enough already).

No one regretted attending, however. Jewels included a pair of Oak Titmice outside the nature center – few creatures climb as high on the cuteness meter as a titmouse carrying a fluffy white feather a third his (her?) own size – and several Eared Grebes and Ruddy Ducks in their blazingly lovely breeding plumage. The flock of Muscovy Ducks in the bird paddock seemed larger than ever, with at least two individuals (a tan and a gray) never seen before.

Though we didn’t get into the garden, the area near the playground provided most of the expected birds: Dark-eyed Juncos, White-crowned, Golden-crowned, and Song Sparrows, and American Robins were working the duff under the redwoods, and Black Phoebes chased flies from the railings. A flock of Chestnut-backed Chickadees swarmed into one of the trees near the path, just after a query to the group indicated that no one had seen any with the titmice observed earlier.

All told, we saw 32 species – only 8 down from last year, despite the weather and the shortened walk – so, in its own peculiarly adventurous fashion, it was yet another good day at Lake Merritt.

Tilden Park Botanic Garden
March 17, 2019
Leader(s): Ryan Gilpin
# of participants: 35
# of species: 28

We walked the narrow trails of the Botanic Garden.  There were too many participants for  this location which has such small gathering areas.  But we had some really great views of a Red-shouldered Hawk, Allen’s Hummingbirds and a Wilson’s Warbler.  Our complete checklist for the morning is on Ebird at https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S53944342

Fort Mason
March 17, 2019
Leader(s): David Assmann
# of participants: 52
# of species: 49

The main highlight for today’s field trip was the number of nests we were able to observe.  We watched a pair of Bushtits going in and out of a nest in the Battery, and had good looks at three different Anna’s Hummingbird nests – one in front of the garden, one in the lower Battery and one at the top of the stairs coming up from Aquatic Park.  We had stunning looks at the overwintering Orchard Oriole, which remained in view for at least 15 minutes, at one point sitting a foot away from a bright Orange-Crowned Warbler. At least 30 Cedar Waxwings foraged in the garden.  The Wandering Tattler was on the pier in Aquatic Park. Swallows have returned – we saw both a Barn Swallow and a Violet-Green Swallow. A pair of Western Bluebirds were near the entrance way to Fort Mason. Ruby Crowned Kinglets were singing, and two participants reported hearing a Blue Gray Gnatcatcher. 

Golden Gate Park Chain of Lakes
March 10, 2019
Leader(s): Bonnie Brown and Mitch Youngman
# of participants: 14
# of species: 31

Today’s participants were mostly from the Bay Area , but we had one visitor from Boston. A really nice group and perfect size. We had very good weather considering the rain shower prediction for the day, but we had sunny skies, mild breeze and a comfortable temperature for walking in both shade and sun. The highlights today were seeing the famous female Great Horned Owl on her nest. Looking forward to seeing Owlets soon! Lots of good views at the Allen’s Hummingbirds showing their brilliant reddish-orange throat. And mating red-shouldered hawks. Just as we ended our walk, we saw the female Belted Kingfisher at South Lake. The clouds starting rolling in again and so our walk concluded. Another great morning in the park. Thanks to all who joined our walk and hope to see you again.

Tilden Park Nature Area
March 1, 2019
Leader(s): Alan Kaplan
# of participants: 45
# of species: 30

We walked to Jewel Lake and back again. Today’s topic was “Life and Work of Susan Fenimore Cooper: 19th-century Naturalist and Environmentalist”! In her prescient 1850 book, Rural Hours, Cooper traced the course of a year in nature, farm and field, and made a case for nature to thrive beside agriculture and industry. It  has been called it “the first major work of environmental literary nonfiction by an American woman writer, both a source and a rival of Thoreau’s Walden.” 

One of her themes (my paraphrases) was “Citizen-science enhances Democracy!” Another was “Study your Patch!” And a third was, essentially, “Woodsman! Spare that Snag!”  Four years before Thoreau published Walden (in 1854; Wikipedia incorrectly says 1845), Cooper wrote about “simplicity” as a value. Eighty years before Aldo Leopold, she was writing of what we recognize now as a “land ethic.” And 120 years before Deep Ecology of Naess and others, Cooper was celebrating Nature for itself, unconnected to human culture or uses. 

See Rural Hours (1998 edition, University of Georgia Press) and other titles by Rochelle Johnson and Daniel Patterson for details. 

View the checklist from today online at https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S53271316

Crown Beach & Elsie Roemer Bird Sanctuary, Alameda
February 28, 2019
Leader(s): Sharol Nelson-Embry
# of participants: 4
# of species: 19+

We had a great morning with an outgoing high tide and even some sunshine after all the rain. Shorebirds were plentiful and a few duck species and some grebes. No snowy plovers seen since tide was out by the time we checked; new enclosure near Bird Sanctuary was checked. EBird: 2 lists submitted – one for Bird Sanctuary (S53224030) and one for Bay View trail walk.

Lake Merritt
February 27, 2019
Leader(s): Hilary Powers and Ruth Tobey
# of participants: 9
# of species: 45

Nine intrepid birders dared the trailing edge of the atmospheric river to visit the lake  today. The forecast 35% chance of showers was dead on: as memory pictures the trip, a third of the time it was raining, a third gray and windy but dry, and the rest sunny and pleasant… in roughly ten-minute segments all morning. Invigorating.

The ducks, of course, didn’t care. Black and white Bufflehead drakes pursued the opening rounds of courtship, head-dancing and displaying for their tiny brown hens (which studiously ignored them while staying close by), and a party of five Common Mergansers – three russet-topped gray hens and two brilliant white and midnight-green drakes – swam lazily in front of the islands. The first of the season’s would-be Double-crested Cormorant papas had staked out spots in the bare trees, either standing tall beside old nests or crouching head-and-tail-up in them in hopes that a passing female would reward their deftness in grabbing the coveted top spots and come settle down with them. Some were showing well-developed crests, but others were still smooth-headed, proving that fine feathers aren’t all that makes a fine bird.

Bird of the day, not seen here before: a Common Yellowthroat was fossicking along the rocks at the edge of the near island, where the Green Herons often hang out (but weren’t at the moment). He stayed in the open long enough for really good looks, too.

A Spotted Sandpiper would have given the yellowthroat a run for the honors – we’ve seen them a few times over the years, though not since 2015 – but it was moving too fast. It flew up the lake and away so quickly (unmistakable but indescribable) that no one saw it who wasn’t looking exactly at its path as it came through.

We also saw most of the usual suspects for the season – both species of scaup and four kinds of grebes, as well as Common Goldeneyes, Canvasbacks, and crowds of (not-ruddy) Ruddy Ducks. In addition, one Greater White-fronted Goose was hanging with a Canada Goose near El Embarcadero, and a perfect Glaucous-winged Gull was swimming near the globe cage.

In the garden, the Oak Titmice were out in force, especially near the concrete platform beside the Monkey-Puzzle tree, and we found two Fox Sparrows and a Hermit Thrush near the bonsai garden, where we also had beautiful views of a black-masked Townsend’s Warbler – and we were saved from “warbler-neck” because the top of the tree he was working in was only about eye level instead of the usual sky-scraping reach.

All told we encountered 45 species (one up on last year) and came away with a general sense of accomplishment sparked by the intermittently difficult conditions: yet another good day in Lake Merritt’s unending stream….

Albany Mudflats, McLaughlin Eastshore Park, Albany Bulb
February 23, 2019
Leader(s): Fred Werner
# of participants: 30
# of species: 55

Another wonderful day of birding the Albany shoreline!  30 adults showed up to survey the avian scene, including both seasoned expert birders who have been birding Albany for months, and a strong contingent of new birders, several with small children in tow.  Starting as usual at the observation platforms along Buchanan St., we scanned the large flocks of shorebirds at a great distance, and the scattered American Avocets, ducks and coots up close.  Highlights included avocets already molting into their breeding plumage, and giving the next generation of birders a primer in using binoculars and a spotting scope.  Even if some of them weren’t quite ready for it, they (and their parents!) seemed to enjoy the experience and the close encounters with the birds.

Continuing on to the uplands area, we were treated to great views of the charismatic star of the day: the Burrowing Owl.  As usual of late, it was perched in short grass roughly in the middle of its enclosure, approximately 2/3 of the way towards the eastern edge of this habitat area that EBRP has been successfully managing for it here.  During our loop around the area, the overlooks above the water’s edge at several points offered excellent views of an even broader array of foraging shorebirds and water birds, including a Black Oystercatcher, Eared and Horned Grebes, and a female Belted Kingfisher.

The small, determined group that carried on to the end of the land were rewarded with a probably Allen’s hummingbird (though the backlighting made it difficult to confirm that it wasn’t an early-arriving Rufous Hummingbird), a beautiful dark-morph Red-tailed Hawk, Black Turnstones, and an iconic view of a Great Blue Heron on the shoreline, with the Bay Bridge and San Francisco skyline in the background, almost straight off the Golden Gate Audubon website!

We’ll continue this monthly adventure next month.  As always, birders of all levels are encouraged to join us, lend your eyes to the survey, and see what new birds you can learn!

For more details and photos, see the individual eBird lists:

Albany Mudflats: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S53073578

McLaughlin Eastshore SP: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S53073589

Albany Bulb: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S53073592

Fort Mason
February 17, 2019
Leader(s): David Assmann
# of participants: 10
# of species: 40

Today’s  highlights were Orchard Oriole, Band-Tailed Pigeon, Lincoln’s Sparrow, Surfbird and Red-Breasted Sapsucker.

San Francisco Botanical Garden
February 17, 2019
Leader(s): Ryan Gilpin
# of participants: 7
# of species: 32

We had a good walk this morning with 7 of us in San Francisco.  Highlight was probably an Allen’s Hummingbird on a nest.  Everyone was very interested in talking trees, so we spent most of our time talking trees and still found 32 bird species.   The ebird list is at https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S52838231.

Delta Boat Trip
February 10,  2019
Leader(s): Hilary Powers
# of participants: 27
# of species: 61

We had a splendid day,  especially anyone wearing  enough layers of clothing and a windproof shell.  The tide was a little low for seeing over the levees, especially on the way home, but we identified 61 species of birds (plus another five possible) and caught glimpses of several sea lions, a beaver, and an otter.  We had some good looks at Great Horned Owls blinking in the daylight.

Tilden Nature Area
February 1, 2019
Leader(s): Alan Kaplan
# of participants: 41
# of species: 28

Golden Gate Audubon Society, First Friday Birdwalk, February 1, 2019, Tilden Nature Area. To Jewel Lake by the road and back by the Lower Pack Rat Trail. View the checklist online at https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S52281693  We had a pair of Red-shouldered Hawks “in copulo” at the TNA entrance, a pair of Hooded Mergansers at Jewel Lake, and the Red-breasted Sapsucker continues at the cotoneaster behind the first picnic table at the “blue placard” parking spaces near the entrance. Allen’s Hummingbird has returned, as predicted by the flowering of the Pink-flowering currant.

Today’s theme was Winter Survival of Birds, especially  pertinent this week with the extreme weather in the Midwest a concern for birds and those who love them!

Polar Vortex excitement in the Midwest this week got me thinking about how the birds are trying to survive the freezing (and worse!) weather. I looked at eBird for  Minnesota, Michigan and Illinois to see what birds we had in common with those places in winter and have some stories about their adaptations to winter for you.

Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers forage more; Red-breasted Nuthatches forage more. Common Ravens cache meat for a short time.

American Goldfinch in Michigan fatten the same every year; they seem to be tracking the mean seasonal temperature and cueing on it. Birds that do this are called “predictors”.

Dark-eyed Junco has 1-2 days fat reserve, and birds at higher latitudes have larger reserves. They adjust reserves relative to recent temperatures. Birds that do this are called “responders”.

White-crowned Sparrow has 1-2 days fat reserve at all latitudes. Their fat reserve peaks at mid-winter. They are as fat as they will get for the winter on Groundhog Day!

House Sparrow has no extra winter fat (winter fat is what remains and accumulates after a night of fasting and using stored fat for energy overnight). House Sparrow compensates by adding 70% more feathers in winter!

The latest issue of Cornell’s Living Bird magazine (Winter 2019) has an article by Bernd Heinrich, “How Do Birds Survive the Winter?” (at All About Birds).

Albany Mudflats – McLaughlin East Shore State Park
January 26, 2019
Leader(s): Fred Werner
# of participants: 40
# of species:  52

40 people showed up including seasoned experts, total novices and everywhere in between.   It was a mild day for January: mostly cloudy but with no wind, the Bay was glassy.  We started the day scanning the mudflats, taking in the scattered American Avocets and other assorted shorebirds, coots and ducks.  Multiple Red-tailed Hawks flew by but the foraging flocks didn’t seem to concerned.

Moving on to the uplands area of the McLaughlin Eastshore state park, we got even better views of the Canvasbacks and some of the other ducks, and really nice views of a lone Mew Gull.

The biggest highlight of the day was the Burrowing Owl standing in fairly tall grass in the middle of its protected enclosure, patiently awaiting some excitement.  For us, he was it!!!

As we rounded the curve at the west end of the Burrowing Owl area, most people headed for home.  But a Red-throated Loon cruising along the flooded shoreline below us, beckoned us to continue.  Three people joined the optional extension out to the tip of the Albany Bulb, beginning with a chase for the perfect view of that loon.   These few intrepid birders were rewarded richly for their efforts.  Jutting a half mile further out into the Bay, the rocky spit at the tip of the Bulb was a refuge sought by large flocks of shorebirds as the tides rose, including quite a few we hadn’t seen yet today:  Black-bellied and Semipalmated Plover, Least and Spotted Sandpipers, Black Turnstones, a lone Black Oystercatcher, and one Eurasian Wigeon trying to blend in with a large raft of American Wigeons.  The massive schooling flocks of Western Sandpipers also put on a spectacular show out there, as did the White-tailed Kites and the Osprey.

Details and photos of some of the birds can be found on the three eBird lists submitted, one for each hotspot:

Albany Mudflats: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S52117472

McLaughlin Eastshore SP: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S52117550

Albany Bulb: https://ebird.org/view/checklistS52117597

Lake Merritt
January 23, 2019
Leader(s): Hilary Powers
# of participants: 32
# of species:  52

Thirty-two guests encountered fifty-two avian species – the most for the month since 2015. Startling appearances: a Greater White-Fronted Goose for the second time since records start in 2009, the third Northern Pintail ever, a dozen or more Common Mergansers in breeding plumage, and a pair of Barrow’s Goldeneyes — the crescent-moon-marked male being the first seen on any of these walks this season. We also had three separate sightings of Brown Creepers scuttling up trunks and along branches overhead, far enough apart to indicate three different individuals; never had more than one before, and few enough of those.

A juvenile Great Blue Heron perched on the rocks by the pipe outside the nature center, close enough to talk about the signs that indicated the age of the bird. Also, for the first time this season, the water between the nature center – which is reopening, in case you hadn’t heard – and the near island carried  enough scaup of both species to make it possible to talk about their differences, which do matter to birders, even if not so much as to the Greater and Lesser Scaup themselves.

The lake seemed to have more birds overall than in recent months – not black with birds as it should be, but goodly numbers of Greater and Lesser Scaup, assorted grebes (including half a dozen or so Western Grebes instead of one or two), Bufflehead, Common Goldeneyes, still-not-ruddy Ruddy Ducks, and Canvasbacks. The big bare tree on the island was still empty (except for the young Red-shouldered Hawk that perched in a nest for a while before raising a kerfuffle of dodging prey species on the next island over), but the floats were lined with adult though still smooth-headed Double-crested Cormorants apparently waiting for the territory-grab starting gun. It was low tide, and the shallows were crowded with Snowy Egrets, all busily snapping up delicious things too small to see from the walkway. Will they come back and nest this year? Always the same question, hoping not to get the same answer.

Hank-the-rescue-pelican was on his own, waddling in the paddock and later swimming across the lake all alone, despite the breeding bump starting to grow on his beak. Poor guy gets a lot of visitors from summer through early winter, but no one ever stays with him through the breeding season. They’re colony nesters, and he can’t compete with the call of the cousins.

Tree bird sightings started in the oaks along Bellevue beside the lake – before we crossed into the main part of the park we had Chestnut-backed Chickadees and Oak Titmice and a cloud of Bushtits, plus both Yellow-rumped and Townsend’s Warblers, the first of the Brown Creepers, and some gorgeous Western Bluebirds (the first since last October). Also some Dark-eyed Juncos – probably always here but not always seen – and some White-crowned Sparrows, a Golden-crowned Sparrow, and a Song Sparrow. That covered everything likely to appear in the oaks outside Children’s Fairyland and it was well after 11:30 already, so we headed straight along the other end of the Bellevue U and into the garden.

There our usual viewing-and-resting platform was full of two-foot-tall humans and their keepers, so we walked along the fence past the composting area, looping under the monkey-puzzle tree and across to the bee hotel, enjoying repeat looks at the tree birds (including hummingbirds and Ruby-crowned Kinglets) and generally reveling in the fairest day offered by 2019 and a lot of the latter part of 2018 as well: sparkling sunny, still, and not-cold. All in all, a peak morning in the unbroken string of excellent mornings we’ve come to expect at Lake Merritt….

Arrowhead Marsh
January 21, 2019
Leader(s): Kathy Jarrett
# of participants: 6
# of species: 54

Our bicycle trip found the Ridgway’s Rails during the high tide this MLK day. We started bicycling from EBRPD’s Tidewater staging area near the High Street Bridge and rode the Bay Trail to the viewing platform and rode the loop around to pond #3 (SE corner). Lots of Surf Scoters in the channel, many Common Golden-eyes everywhere, Blue-wing Teals in Pond #3. Say’s Phoebes and Western Meadowlarks. We also saw a huge number of volunteers clearing out an unimaginable amount of trash from the area. Thank you! Great weather even though a bit cool. 

Fort Mason
January 20, 2019
Leader(s): David Assmann
# of participants: 15
# of species: 35

The GGAS walk at Fort Mason was cut short due to heavy rain at one point, but the few birders who braved the rain afterwards were treated to the sight of the young male ORCHARD ORIOLE preening in a tree in the Community Garden, which also had two WHITE-THROATED SPARROWS and two LINCOLN’S SPARROWS. The WANDERING TATTLER was on the abandoned pier in Aquatic Park.

Golden Gate Park, Chain of Lakes
January 13, 2019
Leader(s): Bonnie Brown and Mitch Youngman
# of participants: 30
# of species: 36

Today’s quarterly walk through Chain of Lakes in Golden Gate Park was led by Mitch Youngman and Bonnie Brown. Even though the park was closed to car traffic this morning due to the Hot Chocolate 15K event with thousands of runners, we had a huge turnout!  30 guests and 3 of those were young kids and enthusiastic birders.  Lucky with the weather too; had a cool start with light breeze and ended our walk with more sun but probably still in the high 50’s.  Lots of locals in attendance, some repeat guests which is always fun and we had a nice couple from Amsterdam join.  

Early on, we heard rumors about the American Bittern at North Lake and when we got there, it was easily spotted in the reeds on the east side of North lake.  We all got good looks in the scope.  The Red Tailed Hawk nest on the southwestern edge of our walk looks to have disappeared with either recent storm activity or the tree trimming work that has been happening in the park recently.  We saw a beautiful Red Shouldered Hawk in the forest just north of the former Red Tailed Hawk nest and it was a glorious specimen with beautiful markings.  It was very cooperative and we looked at it for several minutes from different vantage points.  Tons of Yellow Rumped Warblers all over the place. mostly heard way up in the Eucalyptus canopies.   Another really fun morning in GGP with a great group of birders! 

View this checklist online at https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S51681822 

Shadow Cliffs Regional Park
January 11, 2019
Leader(s): Steve and Carol Lombardi
# of participants: 8
# of species: 53

The weather started with temps in the 40s, a10 mph SE wind, and overcast. It continued overcast but warmed to the 50s and the wind died.  We walked from the swimming beach along the lake shore, up on the levee to the rookery, then back west and dropped down into the the forest.  We continued along the levee to the west end of the park.  In general, the land birds were pretty quiet, with little activity or vocalizing. Today’s birds included 6 Hooded Mergansers, a good number of Ring-necked Ducks, Osprey, Kestrel and California Quail.  View this checklist online at https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S51569867. 

Tilden Park Nature Area
January 4, 2019
Leader(s): Alan Kaplan
# of participants:
# of species: 29

We walked from the parking lot to Jewel Lake by the road and then back from the Lake by the Lower Pack Rat Trail. Our theme today was Terrestrial Mixed Feeding Flocks. Guest was Malc from UK.  There were three Hooded Mergansers in the lake: two females and a male. You can view the checklist online at https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S51487775