The March 4th-Wednesday Golden Gate Audubon walk was cancelled, like pretty much everything else in this first month of the recognized pandemic, but I strolled down to the usual starting place at the usual time. (Strolled ’cuz I left the spotting scope home – scopes want to be shared, and there’s no way to share a scope and maintain social distancing and surface cleanliness – meaning I wouldn’t have to slog back up the hill with it. And with all the news of beach closures, I didn’t like the chance of the entry being blocked to cars – which it wasn’t, but the exercise was good.)
Anyway, one intrepid birder joined me for much of the walk, carefully hovering six feet away, and we saw or heard 42 species of birds – more than in any of the past three years, despite the reduction in eyes and optics on the hunt – mainly because the weather was rather better than in preceding March trips. Partly cloudy, meaning partly sunny, and often without cold winds….
The first biggest observation: the island trees held zero nesting cormorants. The remnants of last year’s nests clung to the branches, but no one was rebuilding. We did see half a dozen Double-crested Cormorants on the floats, including one with beautiful white crests like an Easter Bunny costume, so maybe April will see some action. On the other hand, another cormorant on the floats was so pale it looked like a new-fledged juvenile; maybe they’re nesting elsewhere this year.
Lots of courting action on the lake: Two male Common Goldeneyes were trying to impress the same female with the length of their necks (a drake can reach his tail with the back of his head, even though they usually look like they don’t have necks at all), and several pairs of Eared Grebes were swimming side by side and showing off their gold and copper and steel party clothes, some of the flashiest among North American birds. Ruddy Ducks were everywhere – the most numerous bird on the lake – and many of the drakes lived up to their name for a change: brilliant russet backs to go with their black caps, white cheeks, and sky-blue bills.
Hank-the-Rescue-Pelican had a friend, a first for March since 2010 (and that may have been a misguided checkmark for Helen, the lake’s previous rescue pelican). Hmmmm. Hank can hope, and so can we, but the chances aren’t good. Meanwhile, Snowy Egrets fished wherever we looked, standing in the water to shake their golden toes in hopes of attracting edible attention, occasionally turning to chase one another with their crown feathers fanned out like fright wigs. And a Black-crowned Night-Heron flapped briskly toward the Children’s Fairyland side of the park carrying a stick – I couldn’t find it later but fondly believe it meant to nest within the park boundaries and not in downtown Oakland.
Featherless bipeds around the lake were mostly keeping their distance, except for a few pairs of adults with small juveniles who probably shared nest space away from the lake. Most startling observations for the species: two adult males (not together) walking along nose-down in actual paper books.
Most of the predicted feathered species showed up in the trees, though I had to rely on my admittedly unreliable ears for the Chestnut-backed Chickadees and Bewick’s Wrens. Almost everyone spotted jumping through the branches turned out to be a Yellow-rumped Warbler, many in their most brilliant black-gold-and-gray party clothes, but there were a lot of crested gray Oak Titmice as well. And the air was buzzing with Anna’s Hummingbirds, including one perched against the sky and looking like an alien creature: the gorget and forehead feathers, usually almost magenta, shone crimson and metallic gold instead. I posted a what-could-it-be note to a local birding list, but the next message I opened was an Audubon newsletter that started with a pic of an Anna’s displaying exactly that view. Wonders everywhere, even among old friends – as is only fitting for a day at Lake Merritt….