December 18, 2019 – Lake Merritt

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.