After a solid week of blazing heat, our small group gathered under overcast August skies, happily zipping up coats in the strong cold breeze. Later the sun did come out, the coats came off, and the air-quality station by the Nature Center – silent at the beginning of the walk – started a lovely but horrifying nonstop chorus of chimes. Later already? The time jump makes sense, as it was a day of startling sights, defying the usual chronological follow-the-walk narrative.
We collected three different raptors – the most for any one walk – including a Cooper’s Hawk and two Red-shouldered circling high in the sky (besides perched on other occasions). Even better, a young Red-tailed Hawk swooped in close enough to look as big as an eagle as it snatched something to snack on from the grass and then perched low in a pine near Children’s Fairyland. And better still, the Red-tail flew just over the head of a guy flying small drones above the lawn, so we had a lot to watch and were still there when a drone got itself trapped inside Fairyland. We left with it clattering mournfully behind the fence and the pilot heading off along the wall in search of someone working inside who might be persuaded to help him recover his probably illicit toy.
For sheer drama, the raptors couldn’t match of all things the Violet-green Swallows. We’d never spotted these birds in August, but today they darted in a countless crowd near one corner of the big gray building at Perkins and Bellevue, flashing back and forth and perching briefly on the top edges of windows ten stories or so off the ground. What were they chasing? No way to tell, except that it almost certainly had six legs and one or two pairs of wings. Later, in the garden, we met someone who lives at that level in the building, who said she hadn’t seen anything like it, ever.
Heading back to the lake from the swallow building, we heard and then saw a Belted Kingfisher – missing from the walk since last February’s final pre-pandemic trip – perched in one of the bare trees on the cormorant island. This one was a juvenile, the first to show up here without an accompanying adult, and we can hope it was looking for a desirable spot to spend the off-season.
Any of those sightings could have been the main event on an ordinary walk – but not this time, even though the real bird of the day didn’t make it onto the report list. Pet and domestic birds aren’t counted, but who could resist stopping to watch a Blue and Gold Macaw? Especially not a macaw wearing a red hoodie like the one we saw supervising from its chauffeur’s shoulder while its chariot (a bright red compact car) was rearranged to suit it. The front seat was fully equipped for parrot transport already, with an elaborate perch system and several dishes for snacks and drinks, and the rest was quite stuffed with mostly anonymous packages. The driver glanced up from his current armload and snarled “No pictures!” and “I’m very busy!” So we wandered on, puzzled and irritated and charmed in roughly equal measure.
Also enjoyed: a couple of Green Herons, assorted Black-crowned Night-Herons (including several very young stripey youngsters), and two or three Snowy Egrets, plus a single American Coot (forerunner of the returning flood), both Brown and White Pelicans, lots of Double-crested Cormorants of all ages (but none in or near the old nests), and a whole host of Western Bluebirds, mostly heavily speckled juveniles. And a bunch of other species, of course – 37 all told, up from last year but slightly down from the year before – making for another in our unbroken series of very good days at Lake Merritt.