Trip Reports


Lake Merritt
March 26, 2014
Leader(s): Hilary Powers
# of participants: 1
# of species: 25

Our walk today made February’s walk look like a dry stroll, so we skipped the park side of Bellevue and the garden entirely — the birds that live in the trees, unlike the ones on the lake and the single intrepid birder who joined the walk, mostly have the sense to stay out of the pouring rain. We did see a big flock of Cedar Waxwings  in one of the tall sycamores by the lake, though, and were treated to the once-in-my-lifetime sight of a California Towhee  plunging upward on the tail of a Rock Pigeon with what certainly looked like intent to close the last few inches between them and start pulling pieces off the pigeon. The pair disappeared behind a tree before the conclusion, leaving a strong sense of What Was That All About?! behind….

On the lake, some of the Ruddy Ducks were ruddy enough to glow through the curtain of falling water, and the Eared Grebes were donning their party clothes of steel and copper, with bright gold fans around their ruby eyes. The black-and-white Bufflehead drakes were doing weird head dances to attract their brown female companions. The rusty-headed Canvasbacks were all gone, but one female Common Goldeneye hadn’t gotten the departure order. The Tufted Duck was still in attendance, swimming down about three-quarters of the way from the nature center to the El Embarcadero fountain.

Black-crowned Night-Herons were fishing and strolling in normal numbers, and the American Coots were thick on the ground and water — enough to make up a substantial share of the lake’s biomass. The trees were full of Double-crested Cormorant nests, and many of the residents were ignoring the rain and fishing in flotillas, somewhat surprisingly, given the lack of sun to dry their feathers. (Or perhaps they knew the sun would be blazing by noon; we certainly didn’t when we packed it in around 10:45.)

Otherwise, counts of other species continued low, as reported for the past few months. Whatever it is that’s changed for the lake, I wish it would change back — but it was still, rain and all, a good day at Lake Merritt, where, when all’s said and done, every day is a good day.

Fort Mason
March 16, 2014
Leader(s): David Assmann
# of participants: 26
# of species: 47

The best bird on this morning’s trip was a WESTERN KINGBIRD that perched out in the open before flying across the Bay to Marin. We also had a SPOTTED TOWEE in the garden along with multiple views of at least one of the HOODED ORIOLES. The abandoned pier had three WANDERING TATTLERS, a BLACK TURNSTONE and a SURFBIRD. Two RED-BREASTED MERGANSERS were in Aquatic Park (before the walk started). The two over-wintering RED-BREASTED SAPSUCKERS were seen by almost everyone. Large flocks of CEDAR WAXWINGS were visible.

Seal Rocks, Sutro Park
March 15, 2014
Leader(s): Martha Wessitsh
# of participants: 7
# of species: 39

We were able to see a good combination of both land and shore birds.  Highlights included Red-throated Loon, Common Loon, Black Turnstone, Surfbird, Eurasian Collared Dove,  Allen’s Hummingbird, Pacific Wren, Golden-crowned Kinglet and Pygmy Nuthatch.

Martin Luther King Regional Shoreline
March 9, 2014
Leader(s): Maureen Lahiff
# of participants: 12
# of species:n/r

Today’s treats included Cedar Waxwings, diving Forster’s Terns and some  birds that were beginning to show alternate plumage (Eared Grebes, Ruddy Ducks, Black-bellied Plover and Forster’s Terns).  We also spotted a Clapper Rail from the trail but needed high magnification on the scope.

Telegraph Hill/North Beach
March 9, 2014
Leader(s): Carlo Arregio
# of participants: n/r
# of species: n/r

A small but lively bunch, including an out-of-town visitor from back East, braved the time change and enjoyed a walk that took us around Telegraph Hill, down the Filbert Steps, through Levis Plaza and to Sydney Walton Square. Some notable observations were Fox Sparrows up close double-scratching for food, Golden-crowned Sparrows, and a crisply marked Townsend’s Warbler. No Palm Warbler.

A couple of glimpses that never changed into a solid ID. One was a Downy/Hairy Woodpecker. It undulated past us, landed on a tree across the parking lot, and paused enough for me to see the white spot, then disappeared. Couldn’t get a look at the bill. It appeared smaller than a robin, but had to let that go.

The other tantalizing glimpse might have been an Orange-crowned Warbler but that also vanished and we couldn’t re-find it.  The best bird of the day turned out to be macro fungi: Shaggy Manes

North Berkeley and Rose Garden
March 14, 2014
Leader(s): Alan Kaplan
# of participants:
# of species:

 We met at Amador and Mariposa in North Berkeley (outside the 2-hr parking restriction zones). Ann K. met us with her copy of Charles A. Keeler’s BIrd Notes Afield (second edition) for “show and tell.” We deferred detailed discussion of David A. Sibley’s new second edition of his field guide till next month. I noted that our birding friend Jim Hargrove gave it a great review on-line.

I talked about Charles Keeler’s roles as Berkeley Civic Leader, Bad Biologist and Forgotten Poet. His Bird Notes Afield describes the birds of Berkeley around 1899 (first edition) and 1907 (second edition). He was a major influence on the development of North Berkeley architecture and landscape design. He (like many American biologists of his day) was a Neo-Lamarckian, writing a book on coloration of North American birds (seven years before the re-discovery of Mendel’s laws of inheritance) that assumed traits acquired during a bird’s lifetime were passed on to future generations (we deferred a discussion of epigenetics to another day). And he kept a Late-Victorian poetic style well into the 20th century, while his contemporary William Butler Yeats, the British War Poets, and others internationally moved poetry forward.

We walked up Eunice to the Berkeley Rose Garden, then along 100-year old Rose Walk, a Berkeley Landmark, to Greenwood Common (also a Berkeley Landmark) and Terrace to see the houses and look at birds along the way. The Common was subdivided by William Wurster (chairman of the architecture department at UC Berkeley) in the 1950s and attracted excellent architects of the day (Joseph Esherick, Donald Olsen, Henry Hill and others). We then walked on Buena Vista Way, past several homes designed by Bernard Maybeck (Charles Seeger House, Matthewson House (both 1923 Fire survivors), Maybeck’s Sack House (his “bubblecrete” answer to his own house’s destruction in the 1923 Fire), and down La Loma past Tyndal Bishop House (by Ernest Coxhead right after the fire), John Ballantine’s house (built on the site of the house he lost in the fire, and this time built of concrete blocks!), and the Andrew Lawson house, built on the Hayward Fault by the geologist who first mapped the San Andreas fault. We finished our tour of the La Loma Historic District with a look at The Tolman Cottages (they were built for Edward Tolman, the UC psychology professor) as they are being rehabbed back to their 1925 glory. Jacque Ensign of the Berkeley Path Wanderers Association told us a bit of the history of the nearby Cedar Path and steps, completed by a Girl Scout troop recently. We walked down Cedar past the Pueblo-style Agnes Cleaveland House (the owner grew up in Cimmaron in the New Mexico Territory before statehood). After a brief view of the George Blood House on Euclid near Hawthorne Terrace (by Walter Ratcliff, Jr.), we walked down Vine Lane to Vine and then back to our starting point.

Let me know if you want a bibliography for today’s walk.

Thanks to Denny, Lois, Jacque and others for comments and Judi, Penn and others for keeping us birding, and especially to Steve B. for all his family stories (walking up Rose Street to Grizzly Peak before the La Loma extension sealed off that route; working in the Lawson House in the 1930s; going to to the Hillside School; living in a Henry Hill-designed house, etc.).

And the biggest Bird of the Day ever: a Lockheed C-130 which made at least 3 passes as we watched from Greenwood Terrace!

Meadows Playfield
March 7, 2014
Leader(s): Alan Kaplan
# of participants: 36
# of species: 34

Since construction continues in the Tilden Nature Area, we are still meeting for these First Friday GGAS walks at the intersection of Lone Oak Road and Central Park Drive in Tilden Regional Park, near the Meadows Playfield.

Our theme today was Birdwatching with American Women, by Deborah Strom. We talked about Gene Stratton-Porter, Anna Botsford Comstock, Florence Merriam Bailey, Margaret Morse Nice, Aletha Sherman, Sarah Orne Jewitt, Neltje Blanchan Doubleday and Mabel Osgood Wright.

American women ornithologists were at the forefront of the late-19th, early- 20th century conservation movement to protect birds from plume hunters and the millinery trade. In the same era, they were founders of the nature study movement, setting the precedents for nature walks and for bird sanctuaries and preserves that we enjoy today. The negative attitudes several of these authors had about hawks are the source of much of the animosity towards predatory birds that remains today.

A few of them ranked as best-selling authors in the early 20th century (Gene Stratton-Porter may have been the richest writer of her day), and some were held in the highest esteem by the American Ornithologist’s Union (becoming elected Members, receiving the Brewster Medal). Most are all-but-forgotten today, by both the general public that once bought their books by the millions, and by the ornithology profession and birders.

But several of these birdwatchers have “Friends of….” websites and their homes or other property are preserved and managed as historic sites or sanctuaries.

Lake Merritt
February 26, 2014
Leader(s):  Hilary Powers
# of participants: 2
# of species: 25

Our walk was down to two birders and one leader, braving intermittent light rain for a look at the lake in one of its peak months.

Strangest sight of the day: a White-crowned Sparrow harassing (courting?) a Black Phoebe. First the sparrow plunged straight up at the phoebe, three feet or so, then they both landed on the ground a few feet apart. Then the phoebe took off for the woods across Bellevue flying straight and fast, with the sparrow in hot pursuit! They normally ignore each other like rocks. But not this time….

On the lake itself, the species count was as high as ever, setting aside two singleton birds (the Ring-necked Duck and the Redhead) that haven’t shown up this year, but the number of individuals seemed low again this month. A lot of Greater and Lesser Scaup  but not the huge rafts of yesteryear; a few grebes of various kinds but not a crowd; and – most amazingly – only two Black-crowned Night Herons, both brown juveniles who apparently didn’t get the word when all their kin left for a convention. (One of the birders said  numbers were normal Monday and down to zip on Tuesday. Dunno what happened there.) On the other hand, Hank-the-rescue Pelican had two friends, raising hopes that someone will stay with him, and we had a pair of Common Mergansers  rather than just the usual female.

The Tufted Duck was swimming between the islands and El Embarcadero – always worth a fuss because he shouldn’t be here at all; his kin are mostly to be found in northern Europe and Asia. He’s not a rare bird on his home range, but here he supports a minor tourist industry of birders looking to add to their life lists without international travel.

The Double-crested Cormorants were well established in the trees on the islands, with most of the best nest sites taken even though some of the visitors were only barely showing their bunny-ear crests. This is a week or so earlier than in the past two years, when the nests weren’t getting serious attention until the first week or so of March and only a few early birds had picked out spots.

We saw some interesting birds in the park across Bellevue, including an Allen’s Hummingbird gleaming copper in a rare beam of sun, but mostly the tree birds were out of sight, having the sense to stay out of the rain on this fine damp day at Lake Merritt, where every day is a fine day regardless of the weather….

Upper San Leandro Reservoir
February 23 , 2014
Leader(s):  Steve and Carol Lombardi
# of participants: 3
# of species: 56

We only had three people attend our trip to Upper San Leandro Reservoir. However, two of them were non-members and enthusiastic beginners, so we had a great time in great weather.  We had good looks at multiple Wood Ducks and a pair of Wrentits foraging in the bare poison oak stalks right next to the road.

East Solano County (East and North of Suisun City)
February 22 , 2014
Leader(s):  Maureen Lahiff
# of participants: 10
# of species: 21

Raptors were the highlight of this trip including Golden Eagle,  Prairie Falcon, and  Merlin.  We observed a Kestrel pair and several Red-tailed Hawk pairs, including Red-tailed Hawk copulation.  We also saw about 10-12 Loggerhead Shrike over the course of the day.

Las Gallinas
February 18 , 2014
Leader(s):  Bob Lewis
# of participants: 14
# of species: 52

The day was overcast but pleasant, and in addition to some good birds, including a pair of Hooded Mergansers, several Common Mergansers and a Peregrine Falcon, we got to watch a group of four coyotes playing, and one catching and devouring a gopher; and a River Otter swimming in the first pond.   A group of six Cackling Geese remain.

Fort Mason
February 16, 2014
Leader(s): David Assmann
# of participants: 20
# of species: 45

Four WANDERING TATTLERS were the main highlight on this morning’s  trip. It was a good morning for Woodpeckers as well – 2 RED-BREASTED SAPSUCKERS as well as DOWNY WOODPECKERS, NORTHERN FLICKERS and a NUTTALL’S WOODPECKER. There were two male RED-BREASTED MERGANSERS in the Bay. A SAY’S PHOEBE showed up at the end, after most participants had left.

Berkeley Marina/Eastshore State Park
February 7, 2014
Leader(s):  Anne Hoff
# of participants: 13
# of species: 47

The weather changed from drizzle to showers to steady rain but 13 hardy participants braved the elements.  We were rewarded by a show-off male Northern Harrier.  Two Black Oystercatchers foraged in the mud and we saw a good number and good variety of shorebirds.

Meadows Playfield
February 7, 2014
Leader(s): Alan Kaplan
# of participants: 19
# of species: 32

We met at Meadows Playfield due to continuing construction at Tilden Nature Area. It was rainy on and off for the entire period of the walk. Mentioned in Dispatches: Johan L., who found the first Red-Breasted Sapsucker by ear and got us a set of Four Piciformes in One Tree (Downy, Hairy, Nuttall’s and another Red-Breasted) at the end, plus a Northern Flicker calling, for a Grand Slam plus One! Thanks to Bob S. for the scope and great views of Red-Tailed Hawk at the start. Thanks to Nina, Ericka, Tina and Diane who joined us for the first time.

Berkeley Aquatic Park  to Richmond Marina Bicycle Trip
February 1, 2014
Leader(s): Pat Greene and Jeffrey Black
# of participants: 11
# of species: 40

We had a beautiful, sunny, almost windless winter day (too many of these this year).  We met at Berkeley Aquatic Park and cycled directly to the multi-user bridge over the freeway; a frisbee golf tournament in progress discouraged us from venturing south and around the lagoon.  The tide was very high, which greatly reduced the number of shorebirds we saw on this route but we did see a good assortment of ducks and other waterfowl.  And the high tide showed us a Clapper Rail, which we see rarely on this route.  Another highlight was a group of Wilson’s Snipe, which we have not seen here for several years.

Abbott’s Lagoon
January 26, 2014
Leader(s): Emilie Strauss
# of participants: 19
# of species: n/r

Our trip high light was watching an American Bittern at an extremely close vantage point for 10-plus minutes!

Pescadero State Beach and Marsh
January 25, 2014
Leader(s): Martha Wessitsh
# of participants: 6
# of species: 31

This is a good trip for species such as Surf Scoter, Brandt’s Cormorant, Pelagic Cormorant as well as Black Oystercatcher and Whimbrel.  And sea otters are a welcome bonus.

Lake Merritt
January 22, 2014
Leader(s): Hilary Powers and Ruth Tobey
# of participants: 26
# of species: 55

A crowd of birders  saw lots of kinds of birds (the max in a long time) on our walk. The weather was unfortunately lovely, and the viewing was excellent. The leader population made it possible to chase down several birds that would otherwise have hidden from the group; most prominent: two Black-throated Gray Warblers, a couple of Orange-crowned warblers, and a Red-breasted Sapsucker.

On the lake, Hank-the-rescue-pelican had a friend again this month (the only other January sighting was in 2013), and we could see the breeding bump on his beak starting to grow. All the expected species were there except for Horned Grebes, Barrow’s Goldeneyes, and the Green Heron; that is, nine species of ducks, four of grebes, four of herons, and five of gulls, and we saw the Tufted Duck twice, once down near El Embarcadero and then again up with the scavenger flock at the Nature Center.

The scavenger flock remains the world’s best place for sorting out Greater and Lesser Scaup; the head shape (round versus baseball-cap-bad-hair) and the beak markings (black triangle versus straight nail) are easy to see with the birds swimming practically underfoot, and the lighting usually makes the unreliable but memorable head color mnemonic (green = Greater; purple = Lesser) work just fine.

We had Dark-eyed Juncos and California Towhees and four other kinds of sparrows, plus two good looks at Red-tailed Hawks and one at a fine juvenile Cooper’s Hawk and all in all an embarrassment of riches when it came to species count. That didn’t quite make up for the scary observation that the populations of some of those species were shockingly low; at a rough estimate, the numbers of scaup and Canvasbacks were around 10% of what was routine a few years ago, and most of the other migratory ducks seemed down as well, though not so dramatically. Does this year’s warm weather mean they have more places to go? We can hope, but not with any great confidence….

But other than that, it was a grand day at Lake Merritt, where every day is a day well worth seeing.

Sacramento Valley
January 18-19, 2014
Leader(s): Rusty Scalf, Steve and Carol Lombardi
# of participants: 28
# of species: 94

Our weekend trip to the Delta and Valley 1/18-19 enjoyed shirtsleeve weather and great numbers of birds.

Cosumnes Preserve:  On any winter outing to Delta wetlands one hopes to see cranes, ducks, geese and shorebirds. At Cosumnes, all these species occur together in a beautiful panorama. What we saw depended on which direction we pointed our binoculars, whether close or farther away. We saw a good variety of dabbling ducks–in perfect light and close range, where metallic greens on Green-winged Teal glow like hummingbird gorgets–and watched both Lincoln’s Sparrow and Wilson’s Snipe feeding in good light; not half-obscured in grass. Wonderful place.

Staten Island Road:  This Nature Conservancy farming experiment was its bountiful self with large numbers of Cackling Geese, remarkable numbers of Shoveler along with plenty of Sandhill Cranes and Tundra Swans. This might be the best place around for seeing Canvasback, and we had good close views.

Colusa Refuge: This refuge might have the most rewarding auto-tour loop in California. We had great closeup studies of White-fronted, Snow and Ross’ Geese (including “blue” forms for both of the white geese) and some fine views of raptors as well. Beginners had their ‘life” Lincoln’s Sparrow, feeding and eventually sun-bathing near the entrance parking lot, and were delighted by 2 roosting Great Horned Owls and a dining White Tailed Kite.

Sacramento Refuge: This refuge had the full variety of waterfowl one would expect and good numbers (although perhaps just a quarter of what one might see in November during hunting season). Ducks and Geese were plentiful everywhere but clearly more dispersed than during the fall. That contrast alone was interesting. We had a fine day with raptors including very close views of Peregrine Falcon, Cooper’s and Red-shouldered Hawk; and more distant views of adult Bald Eagles.

Gray Lodge: The cross-valley drive to Gray Lodge was itself rewarding with scores of Ibis feeding in flooded fields. At Gray Lodge, spectacular overflights by skeins of white geese were a great way to begin our final venue. We enjoyed the walk (on what is otherwise a driving trip) through the riparian woodlands to the viewing platform, rounding out our trip list with a number of passerines including House Wren. The vista from the platform offered great: large numbers of waterfowl as far as the eye could see–and one can see for miles.

Bodega Bay
January 12, 2014
Leader(s): Maureen Lahiff
# of participants: 11
# of species: 26

We started at high tide.  Pelagic and Brandt’s Cormorants were at Bodega headlands.  Common Loons and a few Red-throated Loons and a sizable number of  Brant (close to 100) were other memorable birds.

Berkeley Marina Bicycle Trip
January 11, 2014
Leader(s): Jeffrey Black and Pat Greene
# of participants: 12
# of species: 42

Even with a  40% possibility of precipitation, 12 participants ignored the weather and joined us at Aquatic Park. It was about 55°F from start to finish with a little breeze; overcast, but excellent bright, diffused light. We made a complete circuit of all the Aquatic Park ponds, and then crossed the Hwy 80 bridge and headed south to Point Emery. We spent so much time on the birds on this route that most riders left us as we passed the bridge on the way north. The rest of us checked out the little inlet behind the SeaBreeze, and then we also called it a day.  Many birds were close in and the colors were beautiful. One highlight was watching a Forster’s Tern dive for a fish, come up with one that looked a little to big to handle–two gulls quickly gave chase, and the Tern dropped the fish. I think they all lost out on that one. The rain–really just a drizzle–came later.  Other good birds: Black Oystercatcher, Whimbrel, Black Turnstone, Pelagic Cormorant, Red-breasted Merganser.

Miller/Knox Regional Shoreline
January 10, 2014
Leader(s): Alan Kaplan
# of participants: n/r
# of species: 48

The herring run has not started here yet, but Richardson’s Bay in Tiburon (across SF Bay in Marin County) was reported in local papers and by Audubon California as active with fish and gulls feeding on them. Thanks to Judi and Bob and Terry for the scopes. Visitor from Astoria, Queens, NY! And thanks to the faithful Pt. Richmond locals who are watching out here most days of the year for their knowledge and insights.

Salton Sea
January 5, 2014
Leader(s): Eddie Bartley and Noreen Weeden
# of participants: 16
# of species: 95

We visited four locations: Dos Palmas Preserve, Salton Sea Yacht Club and two areas of the Salton Sea NWR: Unit 1 and Red Hill.  The most numerous species were Snow Goose, Northern Shoveler, Double-crested Cormorant, White-faced Ibis and Red-winged Blackbird.  We also found Gambel’s Quail, Cattle Egret, Virginia Rail, Sandhill Crane, Red Phalarope, Greater Roadrunner, Cassin’s Kingbird, Verdin , Cactus Wren, Black-tailed Gnatcatcher, Phainopepla,  Abert’s Towhee and Vesper Sparrow.

Strybing Arboretum
January 5, 2014
Leader(s): Kimberly Jannarone,  Ginny Marshall, Allan Ridley
# of participants: 10
# of species: n/r

This morning I led a group of about 10 intrepid birders around the SF  Botanical Gardens for the monthly GGAS bird walk.

Numbers of birds were low, but we had great looks at some charmers.  We had close-ups of a Downy Woodpecker and Northern Flicker side by  side. We spent extended time with two BROWN CREEPERS, who called and  foraged on a tree by the main pond. One VARIED THRUSH posed on a  branch near the “catbird spot” (we did not see the catbird), and  other Varieds foraged with Robins nearby. A flock of ten CEDAR WAXWINGS flew up out of a high tree, rewarding us for our patience in trying to track down their high-pitched calls.

We all got satisfying looks at the continuing BLACK AND WHITE WARBLER down by the pond. One TURKEY VULTURE flew over. Two GREEN-WINGED TEAL were foraging on the main pond. The Canadian Air Force (Canada  Geese) made several aerial missions during our three hours in the  gardens.

After the walk, I went back and saw the continuing NASHVILLE WARBLER,  which was foraging in its usual spot near the bathrooms. An  ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER kept it company. This spot is particularly good after the sun has hit the red-flowering bushes.

Tilden Nature Area
January 3, 2014
Leader(s): Alan Kaplan
# of participants: 39
# of species: 29

Large group of  observers, many for the first time on this scheduled walk, some for the first time ever birding Visitors from Soissons, France, too! Thanks to Bob S. for the scope and to all for Eyes and Ears!

Highlight was the struggle between a female Hooded Merganser and a crayfish she had seized at Jewel Lake. The bird won! Great Blue Heron arrived to feed on smaller fish.

Our topic was the Origin and Ancestry of Birds, and an introduction to Bird Orders. More next month.  Total of 29 species seen or heard (plus one basking Red Admiral “Admirable” butterfly).

Arrowhead Marsh Bicycle Trip
January 1, 2014
Leader(s): Kathy Jarrett
# of participants: 10
# of species: 47

A New Year’s Day bicycle-birding trip was a huge success. Beautiful sunny weather heralded a great birding day. We started from the EBRPD Tidewater staging area in Oakland near the High St bridge to Alameda where a large group of Least Sandpipers was on the dock and House Finches, White Crowned and Golden Crowned Sparrows were in the scrub and on the ground. Large flocks of Greater Scaup, Ruddy Ducks and Coots were on the bay, and smaller groups of Wigeons, Pintails, Green-winged Teals, Buffleheads, Common Goldeneyes and Avocets. We also saw Eared, Horned, Clarks and Western Grebes on the bay; some of the Westerns were vocalizing. Thanks to the people with scopes at the Arrowhead viewing platform we were able to see Soras and Clapper Rails. The platform itself was full of birds waiting out the extreme high tide – lots of Willets, Marbled Godwits and Black-necked Stilts along with a Great Blue Heron and Great White Egret. A ride around the loop gave us a Say’s Phoebe and a Burrowning Owl (at #2).  We saw the Tropical Kingbird also mentioned by Derek Heins; it was in the grassy area north of 66th Ave.