I had all kinds of news to post earlier this week, all seeming quite important at the time... There was the Black-crowned Night Heron along the San Francisquito Creek, peacefully sitting on a tiny waterfall awaiting fish, the fallen Yellow-rumped Warbler, a "Myrtle" I found during lunch. There was a Cooper's Hawk nest in the same tree as last year, and three Pacific-slope Flycatchers calling loudly. There was also the Bewick's Wren nest in an unlikely spot along the creek bank, a cooperative White-breasted Nuthatch that fed only inches away from me as I watched , the Warbling Vireos that squabbled briefly overhead and the constant singing of Orange-crowned Warblers that I never could find. In the neighborhoods, I noticed the noisy male Northern Mockingbirds that flashed their white wing patches aggressively but seemed to resolve their differences somehow and the White-throated Swifts mating while in flight. I also noticed a general lack of "Crowned" Sparrows along my walk, and another Western Tanager...
As wonderful as each of these things is, and will remain, I'm having trouble giving them my full attention, or anything else for that matter. You see, two days ago the world was told that the Ivory-billed Woodpecker was not extinct after all. Although the species has not been seen for 60 years and was considered by most experts to be gone, it somehow survived in dense cypress woods of Arksas. The occasional unconfirmed reports that appeared over the decades were generally considered misidentifications or hoaxes. This bird, a male, announced by the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, was well documented and even video taped. A myriad of websites and news stories have told and retold the story of how it was rediscovered so I won't try to do that here. I will say however, that I can't overstate significance of this discovery. There is also an irony to it. In the midst of the disappointing news that Congress has approved a bill than includes a clause that will alloow drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), and the Bush administration's contiued refusal to comment on the growing evidence that global warming is actually happening and poses a major environmental threat, a miracle has occurred. Despite all of the current administration's efforts to destroy the environment with its corporate-friendly policies and remove the protections that endangered species rely on to survive, a light has appeared. The Woodpecker in all its brilliance has galvanized conservationists to fight for what is right. Millions of dollars have already been collected for the protection of the Big Woods Partnership, the forest where the bird was located. With luck, other such discoveries will be made and additional lands may be purchased at an accelerated pace. All of this, while George Bush has been trying to open forests like these to logging. Let's hope he will find it more difficult now because of the intense interst in this critically endangered species. It goes without saying that one Ivory-bill does not guarantee the species' survival, but it is at least a start. No one wants to say good bye again.
On a scouting trip today, my friend Brian Christman, Cricket and I visited Twin Gates along Mount Hamilton Road. About 1.5 miles up from Grant Lake we had a Rufous-crowned Sparrow along the side of the road but it got away too fast for us to admire sufficiently. At the trail head lot we had several Bullock's Orioles, White-breasted Nuthatch and Western Bluebirds in the big oaks above the lot. The hill trail across the road seemed crazy with Nuthatches but little else. Overhead passed several Band-tailed Pigeons. Most welcome were a few Lark Sparrows in the lower area below the gate.
The Smith Creek area was frustrating, as I implied earlier, because of the fence preventing access to the stream, but Western Wood Pewee , our first for the season, was heard in the area and of course, House Wren, Orange-crowned Warbler and Warbling Vireo .
On the way home, we paused near Grant Lake and saw a Caspian Tern flying over the near shore.
I find it amusing that George Bush cancelled his Earth Day visit to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park because of bad weather. He gave his short speech from the airport instead. I guess it goes without saying that environmentalists and others who work for the health of the planet, continue to do so whether it rains or not.
Nikolai visited us on Saturday night and accompanied Cricket and me today for a short reconaissance tour of the Sunol-Ohlone Regional Wilderness. We logged 56 species during our three hour hike including many seasonals. I had visited the area years earlier and for some reason forgot to return until now. The area is absolutely beautiful and should make a perfect for a spring destination for our group. Lush riparian woodland is bordered by vasty grassy hillsides and loads of beautiful wildflowers. Habitat provides the possibility of uncommon species like American Dipper and Canyon Wren. Numerous sycamore trees line the rushing stream and are filled with chattering Bullock's Orioles, Warbling Vireos and Orange-crowned Warblers. It's a real jewel in the park system, but unfortunatley it has also been discovered by hundreds of picnickers as well as birders... Highlights included Common Merganser, Golden Eagle, Allen's Hummingbird, Olive-sided Flycatcher, Ash-throated Flycatcher, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, House Wren, Cassin's Vireo, Yellow and Black-throated Gray Warbler, Bullock's Oriole. Try as we did, we could not relocate the recently reported Harris' Sparrow.
Back at home, the male Hooded Oriole was finally seen in the tall palm trees visible from our driveway. A beautiful adult bird with a black back, bib and tail, otherwise bright yellowish orange and impressive. Seems like yesterday's female and he must have a nest up there.
The class trip to Long Ridge OSP yesterday was productive as far as voice identification goes. We logged quite a few species by voice alone, including Bewick's Wren, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Black-throated Gray, Townsend's, Orange-crowned and Wilson's Warblers, Western Tanager, Black-headed Grosbeak, Warbling and Hutton's Vireos. Species count was a bit low however, but that isn't too surprising as the emphasis was really more on sound and recognition than anything else. A good find however, was a possible Willow Flycatcher, which appeared to us along the Peter's Creek Trail. The brownish Empidonax foraged actively in the short willows by the creek. It had an entirely yellowish lower mandible, obvious wing bars, a peaked head, whitish thoat color that reached up behind the cheeks, and little or no eyering. I did not hear the bird vocalize myself, however some members of the group reported a single "whip" call. Overall size of the bird was smaller than Western Wood Pewee and more compact. The lack of eyering or yellowish-green coloration helped us rule out Pacific-slope. We watched it for several minutes as it foraged actively in a small area, flying from perch to perch and finally away. Strangely, the bird was not seen well from straight on, but remained in profile or visible from behind and below, so tail exact character of the tail is difficult to speak about. Primary feather projection seemed moderate.
Closer to home, in our drive way near the dumpster in fact, the little orange tree contained a female Hooded Oriole today. Her "wheep" call could be heard faintly over the racket of nearby televisions and kitchens of our appartment complex. A moment later we saw her fly up to the palms in the neighboring lot.
Ruby-crowned Kinglet continues to sing along my San Francisquito Creek lunch hour tour. Orange-crowned Warbler and Pacific-slope Flycatchers are singing in various locations. Yesterday, my first Yellow Warbler for the area was heard and today a Wilson's Warbler. There were no Sparrows today and I don't recall hearing any Hermit Thrush for two days... perhaps they have moved on.
Eric Goodill and I scouted out Long Ridge OSP along Skyline Blvd. for an upcoming field trip with class. If next week's experience is anything like today's, birding will most likely be an auditory experience, but the relative absence of mountain bikers made listening very productive, and we were please with our results. The trail was quite muddy in places, which is perhaps why there were so few bikers, but they will return eventually, despite the signs that clearly state "closed to bikers"...
We took the trail down to the Peter's Creek trail, hearing the loud call of Pileated Woodpecker twice along the way. In the heavy cover of the overarching canopy near the small wooden bridge were treated to the beautiful cascading songs of dueling Winter Wren . Eventually we were able to view one of the tiny birds as it sang in a small tree just yards away. Present also was a Hermit Thrush skulking in the underbrush, and one of only two Golden-crowned Sparrows encountered. Throughout our entire tour, we heard Pacific-slope Flycatchers, Orange-crowned Warblers and Black-headed Grosbeaks almost constantly, but it was only in a few willow-heavy areas that we were able to see the slightly less-frequently-heard Wilson's Warbler . On occasion small groups of Band-tailed Pigeons flew overhead. As we approached the small lake, the name of which I can't recall, we began to hear Warbling Vireo more often. At the lake itself activity was slow, save for a single Northern Flicker a Hairy Woodpecker and a distant Hermit Warbler , the first of several for the day. As we climbed the switchbacks, passing through patches of dark coniferous woodland up toward Long Ridge Road, heard as many as 5 or 6 more widely spaced Hermit Warblers, but we were never able to view any of them. Along the top ridge itself, Red-breasted Nuthatch , a small flock of Pine Siskin were found and of course the view was absolutely stunning and stretched out forever! Yellow-rumped and Townsend's Warblers sang in this area as well Brown Creeper , Bewick's Wren and the ubiquitous Steller's Jays . We followed the next trail back down toward the Peter's Creek encountering two more singing Hermit Warblers and at least 5 Black-throated Gray Warblers . Ample opportunity existed to compare these two songs as well as the trills of Wilson's Warbler, Orange-crowned Warblers and the somewhat similar Dark-eyed Juncos. Spotted Towhee were of course heard often too, doing their best to confuse us with their version of a trill. Missed was Western Tanager or Cassin's Vireo. Perhaps next time.
After reaching the car we made a quick stop at Russian Ridge where one more Hermit Warbler was heard but little else of note. Before wrapping up for lunch we made one more stop at the Los Trancos parking lot, hoping for a Bunting or two, but finding instead a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher right near the entrance.
Along the creek a few winter species remain. Hermit Thrush can still be heard calling, and Golden-crowned Sparrows still dash in and out of the underbrush along the Palo Alto Avenue. Townsend's Warbler and Yellow-rumped Warblers continue to forage in the oaks along my route. Migrants include Orange-crowned Warblers and Pacific-slope Flycatchers sing in several spots, but most seem to be from the Menlo Park side of the creek.
I parked my car near the intersection of Emerson and Palo Alto Avenue along the San Francisquito Creek this morning. The first sound I heard was the choppy song of a Wilson's Warbler. The bird was about halfway up a small tree along the bank. This is the first Wilson's I've encountered this spring.
Brian and I took a short walk this afternoon in the Byxbee/Baylands area after visiting the recycling center. At Byxbee there wasn't too much activity save a small group of Canvasbacks, two Greater Scaup and two female Common Goldeneye and several breeding plumaged male Ruddy Ducks. A male Northern Harrier coursed over the fields and a pair of Common Ravens were attending a nest near the dam. Hoards of Willet probed in the exposed muddy areas. As we sat and watched the couple, two Peregrine Falcons sped across the area and briefly engaged. The larger female apparently drove off the male.
At the old yacht club mud flats, many Gulls rested. Included in the large group were Western, Glaucous-winged, California and Ring-billed. The duck pond flock included all the same as well as the aforementioned ducks with the addition of Northern Pintail. Numerous Brown-headed Cowbirds gathered near the parking area, but very few other Passerines were found because of the wind. Near the ranger residence the Black-crowned Night Herons rested on their bulky nests in the branches of the trees. Good photo opportunities as they were quite close and easily observed.
During my lunch hour walk along the San Francisquito Creek (Palo Alto side) a Western Tanager called repeatedly on the opposite shore (Menlo Park side). I kept waiting for the bird to cross the border into Santa Clara County, but it didn't happen. When I left the intersection of Cowper and Palo Alto Avenue, he was still calling every few seconds.
Near the intersection of Pow, Bryant and Palo Alto Avenue, several Warbler species were singing overhead. Orange-crowned, Townsend's and Yellow-rumped were easily picked out of the same tree. As well a Pacific-slope Flycatcher called from somewhere nearby, but remained hidden from view. A Cooper's Hawk perched atop a tall redwood tree, very near where it set up a nest last year. It called several times, but was not answered.