October 6th, 2009: Recap of Bird-a-thon

October 7, 2009 at 4:47 am Leave a comment

It took me a while to write this, and then I forgot about it and forgot ot post it. Here it be!

On September 21st I stepped out with PRBO’s education team for a bird-a-thon fundraiser for our organization. We called ourselves The Indicators. That is another story. This is the story of our big day.

Indicators team minus Cynthia, the photographer

We started out at 6:30 in the morning. When my coworker and I pulled up to the parking lot at the Five Brooks trailhead in Olema Rich Stallcup was already 10 species deep, his scope set up and his ears vibrating with the sounds of a foggy morning on Point Reyes Peninsula. I already knew how big this was going to be. My supervisors soon joined us, and we had started a short walk around the nearby pond.  The highlight of Five Brooks was finding the perfect spot where the sun hit the trees. Four warbler species posed in tiny windows, sparkling in the early sunlight. They fed with energy and enthusiasm, and I watched them similarly.

We piled into Rich’s car and hit Bolinas Lagoon and Stinson Beach. A keen eye caught a juvenile Peregrine falcon alight in a tree, and I had my first life-bird of the day, a Clark’s grebe. Rich nabbed our first vagrant—a Western kingbird.

Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus)

An hour later and we were bouncing down Sir Frances Drake Boulevard toward the outer point. We made a pit stop at Olema Marsh, where Virginia rails and Soras gave themselves up before we could even take out a playback tape. Further down the road a Great horned owl juvenile screeched its begging call to its parents. The fog drip and chill of the morning had it holding out its wings and slumping its shoulders. It looked quite sullen.

At Chimney Rock trailhead Rich teased an American redstart (more like “yellowstart” as it was a first year female) out of the douglas firs. It flicked its fan-tail for us. A somewhat familiar sight for me, but a first for one of my Californian coworkers. A few Barn owls floated in and out of the tree tops, but a bird-a-thon is no time for aesthetics. We jumped back onto the winding road and made our lunch stop at Drake’s Beach. No new birds, but as we ate Rich chummed for a Glaucous-winged gull with french fries. Instead, we were surrounded by hungry and desperate Ring-billed, California and Heerman’s gulls. My coworker Cynthia got some excellent shots out of the group.

Heermann's Gull (Larus heermanni)

Rich aimed us toward north beach on the other side of the peninsula. The Pacific was being fairly torrential, throwing white foam on giggling tourists. Mounted on the sand dune above the parking lot with a carpet of ice plan beneath our feet, we shared two scopes to scan the blue for potential new species. Loons grumbled beneath the surf. Rich laid eyes on a Common murre, and I had my big spot for the day and a life-bird as well—a Pomarine jaeger cutting fast across the distant rolling valleys and troughs. Two Sooty shearwaters disappeared and reappeared beneath the rolling sea as they followed a similar path. Another first for me. I was worried I wouldn’t be able to find them after Rich found them in his scope, but they are absolutely different from anything I have seen before. The brief experience searching for pelagic with Rich made my mouth water for a pelagic trip.

Missy and Rich, Point Reyes

We determined that we had gotten as much as we would get out of the Point Reyes peninsula that day, so we head toward east Marin County for a different suite of bird fauna. At Stafford Lake we found our third and final nuthatch for the day. Rush Creek gave us a flock of feeding Black-necked stilts. But we were slowing down fast. We had started out the day in 53 degree weather, under a cloudy sky and picking up bird species at an exponential rate. Now it was 95 degrees and the bird species were largely repeating themselves. My brain was melting, but Rich seemed to harden his resolve. Probably from years of experience doing bird-a-thons in Marin County and his phenomenal love of nature. He knew there would be more to come.

At Bahia Reserve we found our fourth tern of the day—a Forster’s tern lilting far in the distance spotted by Rich. Missy, one of my supervisors, found a far away American avocet through the spotting scope. A Nuttall’s woodpecker double-called at us, and my doubting Thomas faded away. There is always more to see on a big day. We were at 135 species.

My two supervisors headed home at that point, but Rich said that he thought we could get 10 more species if we hit Las Gallinas sewage treatment plant in San Rafael. Of course, I could not resist. Just a little further was becoming our mantra. We spent about an hour and managed to pull out 11 more species, including all of our swallows for the day (3 species). As we almost hit the parking lot I asked Rich, “What’s that bird in the bush?” referring to a piece of vegetation not 8 feet from us. I thought it was a silly question as I was asking it; it was probably another Say’s phoebe.

“That’s amazing!” he said. “An Ash-throated flycatcher!” Thus bringing our total to 146 species for the day.

Ash-throated Flycatcher (Myiarchus cinerascens)

I probably could have kept going, but it was a good time to end. Rich had 2 more bird-a-thons to lead that week, so he needed all the rest he could get. I had seen more bird species that day than I ever had in my life.

I had my first bird-a-thon this past spring, and it is fun to compare the two experiences. Rich has been birding Marin County for many years, and he is a dedicated and talented birder. I’m a newb, and when I did my bird-a-thon in the DC area I was in a new area. I got a much lower count on the east coast, but it was still an incredible day. I knew right away after my first bird-a-thon that planning is key, and that comes with experience. I hope that the next bird-a-thon is on familiar ground, and that I will take note of how well Rich planned our bird-a-thon.

And I’m already excited for the next one, wherever that may be.

Final bird list:

Canada Goose
Wood Duck
American Wigeon
Cinnamon Teal
Northern Shoveler
Northern Pintail
Green-winged Teal
Surf Scoter
Common Merganser
Red-breasted Merganser
Ruddy Duck
California Quail
Red-throated Loon
Pacific Loon
Common Loon
Pied-billed Grebe
Eared Grebe
Western Grebe
Clark’s Grebe
Sooty Shearwater
American White Pelican
Brown Pelican
Brandt’s Cormorant
Double-crested Cormorant
Pelagic Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Snowy Egret
Black-crowned Night-Heron
Turkey Vulture
White-tailed Kite
Northern Harrier
Cooper’s Hawk
Red-shouldered Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
American Kestrel
Peregrine Falcon
Virginia Rail
American Coot
Black-bellied Plover
Black-necked Stilt
American Avocet
Spotted Sandpiper
Greater Yellowlegs
Lesser Yellowlegs
Long-billed Curlew
Marbled Godwit
Black Turnstone
Western Sandpiper
Least Sandpiper
Long-billed Dowitcher
Red-necked Phalarope
Heermann’s Gull
Ring-billed Gull
Western Gull
California Gull
Glaucous-winged Gull
Caspian Tern
Common Tern
Forster’s Tern
Elegant Tern
Pomarine Jaeger
Common Murre
Pigeon Guillemot
Rock Pigeon
Band-tailed Pigeon
Eurasian Collared-Dove
Mourning Dove
Barn Owl
Great Horned Owl
Anna’s Hummingbird
Belted Kingfisher
Acorn Woodpecker
Nuttall’s Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Pileated Woodpecker
Western Wood-Pewee
Willow Flycatcher
Black Phoebe
Say’s Phoebe
Ash-throated Flycatcher
Western Kingbird
Hutton’s Vireo
Steller’s Jay
Western Scrub-Jay
American Crow
Common Raven
Violet-green Swallow
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Barn Swallow
Chestnut-backed Chickadee
Oak Titmouse
Red-breasted Nuthatch
White-breasted Nuthatch
Pygmy Nuthatch
Brown Creeper
Bewick’s Wren
Winter Wren
Marsh Wren
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Western Bluebird
Swainson’s Thrush
American Robin
Northern Mockingbird
European Starling
American Pipit

MacGillivray’s Warbler

Orange-crowned Warbler
Yellow Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Black-throated Gray Warbler
Townsend’s Warbler
American Redstart
Common Yellowthroat
Wilson’s Warbler
Western Tanager
Spotted Towhee
California Towhee
Savannah Sparrow
Fox Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Lincoln’s Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Red-winged Blackbird
Tricolored Blackbird
Brewer’s Blackbird
Purple Finch
House Finch
Pine Siskin
Lesser Goldfinch
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

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September 10th, 2009: Redwood Weekend March 20th, 2010: Sweet Home Wisconsin

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