The June 4th-Wednesday unofficial Golden Gate Audubon walk – fourth of the pandemic season – drew four birders besides the leaders, and mixed up the numbers by finding all five of the heron species that frequent the lake. Most notably, a juvenile Green Heron swooped down at an adult and got firmly pecked away, unfed. The life of an adolescent is tough everywhere! The youngster landed on the rocky waterline of the bird paddock and prowled toward the human group, snapping things off the rocks and once out of the air on the way. We also had both adult and juvenile Black-crowned Night-Herons and Great and Snowy Egrets, and a Great Blue Heron flew slowly past like an airborne battleship. (Neither Great had showed up for the June walk since 2006, and we’d seen each of them just once this year, one in January and the other in February!)
In the cormorant rookery, parents tended two youngsters in the last of the nine nests; the babies were almost full-sized but clearly a ways from fledging, being still covered with inky black down. Their juvenal plumage will be various shades of bronze, dark on the back and pale to almost white on the breast, but if (as I did for years!) you look for nestlings lighter than their black parents, it always looks like there aren’t any.
The lake surface was thin of company: the winter ducks are long gone, and we saw no grebes, not even a coot! Of course, there were lots and lots of Canada Geese – several hundred of which are here for molt migration, cruising the lake and grazing the lawns while waiting for their flight suits to grow back. Mallards were out in force, too, more drakes than hens, though they’re hard to spot in their eclipse plumage. And their flight feathers, just like the geese, so it makes sense for them to go for camouflage for a while. Only their yellow bills reveal their sex right now. Once their flight feathers grow back in, they’ll molt the drab feathers and turn bright again – just in time for the fall, which is party season for ducks.
We also saw several White Pelicans here to visit with Hank (our rescue bird) though not nearly so many as the 50-plus reported from the preceding Sunday. Several were fishing the lake, and a squad of seven or eight cruised overhead, looking like pterodactyls come to life.
This was the peak of swallow season – April, May and June are the months when we’re almost sure to see them – and the lawns and lake were zooming with Northern Rough-winged and Violet-green Swallows. We have bugs to feed them all year round, as witness the constant presence of Black Phoebes, but chances are they’ll all be gone in July anyway. Where to? Who knows? Not here, even though the whole western U.S. is all in their summer range.
Bluebirds with babies were bouncing back and forth from ground to branch all over the park. We also saw some Chestnut-backed Chickadees and some Lesser Goldfinches, but no Oak Titmice at all, despite how hard we looked for them wherever chickadees were hanging out.
The day’s other highlight was a young Cooper’s Hawk that some crows chased into a tree right over our heads, causing assorted small birds to play statue even though the hawk had other things on its mind at the moment. That brought the count to 31 species, about average for June – the low side of the year, but still offering enough to enjoy and talk about to make it another in Lake Merritt’s unbroken string of variously very good days.