Venturing out right after the year’s first rainstorm and what was probably right before the second, we enjoyed most of a morning of fine weather for such a day – overcast and cold, but good light and no wind. So we were spoiled. When a big fat rain cell opened up on us at 11:40, the last 20 minutes of the trip (under the Lakeside Park trees and with the garden gate near the boathouse blocked off) just couldn’t compete with the prospect of shelter and dry feet. Loss of most of the land birds brought the species count for the day down to 39 – lowest for the month in years – but we enjoyed every bit of what we saw… except maybe the 8-inch sewer geyser pouring up out of a manhole cover near the globe cage at the end of the morning…. Nah, that was fun too, for those not required to fix it.
As has become usual, the expected winter visitors put in an appearance at the lake, but in numbers much lower than was typical even a decade ago. We did get a Western Grebe, the first November sighting since 2015, and there were enough nearby scaup to identify both Lesser and Greater – though far from enough to turn the surface black with birds as it should be. The Ruddy Ducks, Bufflehead, and Common Goldeneyes were out in force, relatively speaking, along with the usual crowd of American Coots, but we completely dipped on the rarer Barrow’s Goldeneye.
A pair of Red-breasted Mergansers overflew the islands near our meeting spot as we were gathering, and another of the species swam on the Embarcadero side of the islands. We see these birds occasionally in the late fall or winter, but only once before in November, in 2016. The day’s other relative novelty was a Glaucous-winged Gull that perched on the roof of the Arts & Science Center long enough to give everyone a good look.
At the beginning of the walk, the floats that block the islands and the Embarcadero end of the lake from boat traffic were crowded shoulder to shoulder – or wingtip to wingtip, anyway – with Double-crested Cormorants, mostly this year’s birds. If they were all born here, the rookery was way more successful than it looked; a quick estimate put the population somewhere north of 250 birds. But perhaps they started elsewhere, as they’d almost all vanished a couple of hours later, leaving the floats to the gulls and the odd Brown Pelican and no feeding flotilla in sight (though they mighta been around behind Children’s Fairyland, where we didn’t go).
So it was another entertainment-packed day at Lake Merritt, where every day is a good day even when the sewers leap up to meet the falling rain – after which your correspondent scuttled off to catch a train to Sacramento for the impending holiday.