Today's trip to Andrew Molera State Park was an overwhelming success even if we did not see everything we had hoped for. Many wonderful migrants had been located the previous week as I mentioned below (some quite rare), but today, there was relatively little excitement as far as rareties went. Instead we contented ourselves with good looks at a few uncommon birds and a fabulous picnic lunch. The lack of lifers didn't concern us too much as we considered this trip reconaissance for a future class outing (accoring to Don Roberson the area is especially good for fall migrants, so it seems like a good candidate for a fall field trip).
Of the recent discoveries, we were only successful in finding three singing male Northern Parulas. These birds were at the east end of the campground, the far west end of the campground and in the trees near the parking lot. Estimates are there may be only five individual NOPAs in the park, including a nesting pair, so we considered ourselves quite lucky to locate three males. Knowing their song was obviously quite helpful. Purple Finches and Wilson's Warblers were ubiquitous during our hike and a single Townsend's Warbler was heard near the campground. Other birds we heard and saw repeatedly include Pacific-slope Flycatcher, Hutton's Vireo, Warbling Vireo, Wrentit, and Swainson's Thrush. Additionaly, House Wren and Orange-crowned Warbler were seen near the parking lot while Black-headed Grosbeak was be heard as soon as we stepped out of our car. Along the river we located a female Common Merganser while overhead dozens of Cliff and Tree Swallows foraged. In the group we spotted a few Barn and Violet-green Swallows as well as several Vaux's Swifts. At the beach Pelagic Cormorant and Surf Scoter were seen just beyond the surf. A side trip to the Bird Observatory produced great looks at Purple Martins nesting in the sycamores overhead.
After lunch, we drove north along Hwy 1 and just before the San Mateo County line saw an immature Peregrine Falcon to our left, rising on an updraft from the cliffs. We then continued north and turned onto Gazos Creek road where Band-tailed Pigeons criss-crossed overhead and the glorious ventriloqual song of Swainson's Thrush could be heard everwhere. We were, of course, hoping to locate the Hooded Warblers that had been reported earlier. We did, in fact hear two separate individual males, but were not able to see the birds. Too bad...
We stopped again only when we reached Pescadero Beach to check on the Gull situation. The Little Gull was still present on the north pond, but the Franklin's and Laughing Gulls were not found at the creek mouth or on the beach. The large flock of Larids on the flats included a few Caspian Terns. A long day, but wonderful.
On my way to work this morning, I was happy to see a few White-throated Swifts jetting under the San Antonio Avenue overpass on Alma. The bridge could well support a few nests but finding a place to pullover and observe is a bit difficult. Anyway, there were at least 3 birds in the area.
With all the excitement of the Little Gull recently, it seems the coast is definitely the place to be if you want to go birding. Several members of our group have already gone to see the Gull including Joan and Phil Leighton, Eric Goodill and Jody McGeen, Ashutosh Sinha, Leone Batkin and perhaps others of whom I am not aware. Good luck to any others who decide to make the quest. A few people were also able to locate the Franklin's Gull that was identified in the same area but I don't know if anyone was successful with the Laughing Gull. Although Cricket and I did not pursue anything besides the Little Gull when we drove to the coast, there is at least one Hooded Warbler along Gazos Creek Road (near the Cloverdale intersection), just south of the Pigeon Point Lighthouse. Ashutosh from class also mentioned a pair of nesting Pigeon Guillemot on the rocks near the observation platform. He said if you're patient, you may see the parents return from sea with food for the young!
Andrew Molera State Park in Big Sur has been absolutely crazy with rare and interesting spring migrants. Most notably a Yellow-throated Vireo
, Philadelphia Vireo
, White-eyed Vireo
, Yellow-throated Warbler
, American Redstart
, Northern Parula
, Rose-breasted Grosbeak
. Finding these birds may be easier said than done, but it seems chances of seeing something interesting are pretty high. Let's hope the activity continues through this weekend, as Cricket and I are planning on making the trip down to the park for chances at least one lifer.
In other news, the Leightons have a nesting pair of Pacific-slope Flycatchers
in their garage. Apparently the birds have been nesting on their property for several years and seem to favor a light fixture over their doorway. When the fixture was moved to the garage to allow some work on the porch, their was must protest from the Empidonax who called repeatedly near the door in what appeared to be frustration. Eventually however, the birds found the fixture in the garage and have been sitting on eggs ever since.
Finally, Cricket and I are finalizing our plans for a Yuba Pass/Sierra Valley trip. This are areas I have long wished to visit, but for one reason or another have not.
We've made our reservations for the July 4th weekend (lodging July 2 and 3) at the Holly House
in Sierra City. It's a bit late in the season, perhaps, but still not too late to do some good birding. From the bed and breakfast base camp we hope to locate some Sierra specialties. Among the birds we will look for are the Mountain Quail, Northern Pygmy Owl, Calliope Hummingbird, White-headed Woopecker, Williamson's Sapsucker, the uncommon Black-backed Woodpecker (which would be a lifer for both of us), Red-breasted Nuthatch, American Dipper, Townsend's Solitaire, Golden-crowned Kinglet, MacGillivray's Warbler, Green-tailed Towhee, Pine Grosbeak, Evening Grosbeak, Red Crossbill, and Pine Siskin. Come July you can look for a report on how many of these birds we were able to find.
I just read the "Real Fact" on the cap of my favorite Snapple drink (peach ice tea) and was not too suprised to find it incorrect. The cap read "The only bird that can swim but not fly is the penguin." Ignoring the fact that there are 17 different
species of penguin, there are at least three exceptions I can think of to this bit of trivia. The Galapagos Cormorant
, the Titicaca Grebe
, and the Flightless Steamer Duck
are all very good swimmers and all quite flightless. There is also more than one Rail that cannot fly, and last I heard Rails can swim quite well... The Takahe
(rediscovered in 1948), the Weka
(which was thought extinct until it was rediscovered in 1987) and the Inaccessible Island Rail
(yeah, I'm likely to see that...) come to mind. If we also consider the fact that Ducks in eclipse plumage molt most of their flight feathers, and are during that time temporarily without flight, then the number of exceptions climbs even higher. I guess the whole story wouldn't fit on the bottom of the Snapple cap...
Because we could no longer resist the temptation to see the Little Gull
that had been reported
06-08-04 by Ron Thorn at the mouth of Pescadero Creek, Cricket and I made a mad dash for the coast immediately after work. Knowing that the sun would set at 20:30 hours we figured a one hour drive, beginning at 18:30, would leave us with a good hour to find the bird. It seemed like a reasonable shot. So armed with scope, binocs, digital camera and a recent print out with directions, we made our way to the coast, driving faster than ever along the windy 84. We parked at the north most end of the Pescadero Beach lot and walked along Hwy 1 toward the bridge. Nothing unusual could be seen on the flats just east of the bridge, but a dizzying number of Larids was resting on the shore to our west. The enormous group was comprised of Western
and Ring-billed Gulls, but no unusual species as far as we could tell. (Two other birders, in search of the Little Gull a day earlier, had reported a Franklin's and a Laughing Gull in the same area, so Gulls were all the rage, it seemed.) The light was becoming worse... Time was short. We walked along the road to the northern most pond, which is now nearly dry, and observed a few Mallard, Gadwall, Willit and Greater Yellowlegs. Barn, Cliff, Tree and Northern Rough-winged Swallows could be seen foraging over the mud, Common Yellowthroat, Song and Savannah Sparrows were detected by voice. This was the last place the bird had been seen and rather quickly, we noticed a small pale Larid on the opposite bank. Could it be? A look thought he binoculars confirmed that it was indeed the Little Gull! (We managed to get a picture, which will soon be in the gallery, but don't expect Elliot Porter...) The bird was scarcely larger than the nearby Killdeer and while it resembled a Bonaparte's Gull, the darkness of it's crown, short legs, extremely dark carpal bar and tiny bill distinguished it sufficiently. We watched it for several minutes as it rested peacefully in the setting sun. Once we saw it fly a few yards and noted it's tiny size, Tern-like flight, surprisingly rounded wings and bold patterning. We left the bird after a while and had an impromptu celebration dinner at Duarte's in Pescadero. On our way home we saw a Great Horned Owl land on a phone pole, just seconds after we had discussed the possiblity...
Cricket's nephew, William celebrated his second birthday yesterday in Turlock. We drove out in the morning to see him, his little brother, family and friends. While driving we saw several Swainson's Hawks flying together over the road but only one Red-tailed Hawk. The difference the two species' silhouette and color pattern was obvious and at one point we had a Swainson's pass low enough to see it's dark flight feathers up close. It was being harrassed by a Western Kingbird.
Before returning home, we made a side trip to Merced NWA, to see how the situation had changed since our winter class trip. We were hoping for Blue Grosbeak, but were not successful with that one. As expected, water levels were low and infact most of the large marsh was completely dry. American Kestrel, Western Kingbird, Loggerhead Shrike, Yellow-billed Magpie and Western Meadowlark were conspicuous along Sandy Mush Road. No Shorebirds or Waterfowl were encountered anywhere, but Red-winged Blackbirds, and Marsh Wren were numerous in the reeds. Overhead passed a group of 7 White-faced Ibis that must have been along the creek. We took the auto loop and reached the second platform, where we walked the Meadowlark Trail. Barn Swallows, Cliff Swallows, and American Goldfinches were everywhere. We flushed two Barn Owls from the willows as well as a Black-crowned Night Heron. We kept our eyes and ears open for Yellow-headed Blackbird and may have seen one. Over the tops of the reeds, partially obscurred, a Blackbird of larger size flew away and dropped back into cover. The fleeting glimpse we got seemed to show light coloring on the head, but of course, we can't count it. But if we go back, we'll have to look again.