The July 4th-Wednesday non Golden Gate Audubon walk made a welcome break in a week of computer hell. (Word to the wise: If Windows crashes, refuses to reboot, and says it can restore itself if you’re willing to reinstall all your programs, say NO. It lies.) That disaster made it especially good to get out in the mask-filtered free air and find some living humans: not just the co-leader but five socially distanced birders, one completely new to the event.
First treat of the morning: a pair of Caspian Terns that cruised almost wingtip to wingtip around the islands, passing practically right overhead. We’ve seen singleton Caspians from time to time, but never two together like this. Then, while we were still at the meeting point, a Green Heron flew over to our beach and strolled briskly into the rocks, tempting us to walk alongside and try for another look. After a few short flights along the shore, the bird got disgusted and headed off toward the boathouse, and we shrugged guiltily and hiked around the art center toward the bird paddock. Normally we’da cut between the center and the cage, but the usual route was entirely blocked by a cherry-picker truck and a crew of painters – good to see infrastructure work in progress!
The paddock was thin of company as the ponds were mostly dry; a couple of park workers were busily scrubbing them, getting them ready to refill. Nonetheless, the ever-present Canada Geese were accompanied by a couple of gnarly-faced Muscovy Ducks and the Chinese Swan Goose, which let us talk about telling wild from domestic waterfowl – mainly a matter of size and fatness.
We spotted all five herons in the course of the morning (both egrets, Black-crowned Night-Herons of all ages, still more Green Herons – one keeping a grim eye on an island raccoon – and finally a Great Blue). The latter showed up in apparent response to my firm “Now we need to see a Great Blue Heron,” a request of the universe that works often enough to maintain birders’ faith in it – so ours remained unshaken, despite having no luck with calls for a scrub jay and a Cooper’s Hawk.
Lots of White Pelicans crowded one of the islands, lounging like people crowding a beach in happier times. We peered around for the baby Brown Pelican seen paddling in the area the day before, but no luck – wherever it was going, there it went.
On the next island over, four or five Double-crested Cormorants were taking an unexpected interest in the big bare tree. The nests there have been empty for weeks, and their former tenants should have no reason to return. Will there be a second round of breeding this year? It’s happened before; in fact, when the rookery was at its busiest several years ago, three rounds kept the nests busy through September. The August trip will tell….
This was still baby bird season, with young Western Bluebirds showing off their speckled breasts and backs all over the lawns along Bellevue. The stars of the day, however, were a trio of newly fledged Bewick’s Wrens chasing each other up and down a twisted tree root, really playing together, taking dust baths and not squabbling over crumbs or sitting like a row of living cupcakes and waiting for parents to show up with food – something I’d never seen before except with young crows or falcons.
Crowds of Barn Swallows filled the air over the lawns, clearly finding plenty to eat. But who can tell what makes birds hold a convention in one spot rather than another? The 4th-Wednesday group hasn’t encountered a Barn Swallow at the lake since June of 2018. Or not hold one, as far as that goes. This was the third month in a row without a single American Coot head-bobbing around the lake, and although the population does typically go way down in the summer, there’s almost always at least one.
One of our group reported seeing a Turkey Vulture soaring overhead as she crossed the park on her way home, and I gleefully added it to the day’s count. That brought us to 34 species all told, more than in any of the past three years: yet another good day at Lake Merritt – as good a day as the world provides in this bitter year….