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Thank you very much for sponsoring me in the Point Blue Conservation Science Birdathon. A description of my day follows.
Don't worry if you hadn't responded before, you can still sponsor me and send in a donation to Point Blue. Read on.
A little before 6:00 am on September 30th I started my birdathon at Tomales Bay State Park by walked down the road near the Jepson trail. Graceful Bishop Pines were silhouetted against a clear sky dotted with brilliant stars.
I was happy to hear the almost constant hooting of a Great Horned Owl, but ecstatic when I heard the high squeal of a Spotted Owl. Forty-five minutes later the sky was brightening and the dawn chorus unfolded; Wrentit, Hermit Thrush, Golden-crowned and Fox Sparrow began calling.
I climbed on my bike and pedaled the short distance to Abbott’s Lagoon. I wanted to be walking down the trail by 7:00 am, but was about fifteen minutes behind the plan already. It took about half an hour to walk down to the beach. Most of the birds I saw and heard were expected; California Quail, Bewick’s Wren, American Goldfinch, White-tailed Kite, and others. The sky was totally cloudless and now I could see why, a strong wind that was stirring up a lot of white caps on the ocean
Other than a few Black-bellied Plover and a Willet, the lagoon was disappointingly devoid of shorebirds. At least visibility was good over the ocean and I was happy to see dozens of Sooty Shearwaters streaming by. In addition to the more distant seabirds, there were many Common Murres and all three species of loon flying by. One or two Parasitic Jaegers darted about, chasing gulls. Every few minutes ten to twenty Brown Pelicans flew by in “little patrols.” The whole melee of seabirds was quite wonderful and I easily could have spent hours just observing the feeding mass, but there were many other places I had to visit.
Back at the main road I turned left towards Tomales Point, most of the raptors were Red-tails, but near the McClure Ranch my eye was caught by a lighter hawk soaring overhead, a Ferruginous Hawk. I biked on to the “teal pond.” A dozen Mallards and few Gadwall were there, but no sign of the White-faced Ibis that had been discovered a few days before. I cursed a bit as I had biked several miles out of my way to get that bird. Fortunately when I took a second look at the tules growing along the edge I spotted the head of the ibis. Bingo.
I took a tally and noted that I had fifty species, a pretty good start, but the brisk winds were a concern. I couldn’t see how I ‘d get another eighty species.
A stop at the Evans Ranch gave us a flock of blackbirds to sort through; many of them had a white border to the red patch, Tricolored Blackbirds. Amongst a flock of dull colored ducks on the stock pond was a Cinnamon Teal. It was a steady, but fortunately short climb up the high point in the road, but bluebirds and Pygmy Nuthatches called out from the madrones and pines. And from the top it was all downhill to Tomales Bay.
The bay was full of glare and whitecaps, but after scanning a few times I was able to find a group of grebes, containing both Western and Clark’s. I pished (made kissing and squeaking sounds) near a patch of willows near the Inverness tennis court and quickly a couple of Townsend’s Warblers fluttered into view. Even better were a Warbling Vireo and Pacific-slope Flycatcher. A Ruby-crowned Kinglet and chickadees joined this active flock. Another flock near the Fire Station had Black-throated Gray and Wilson’s warblers.
It was high tide by the time we rode by the Giacomini wetlands which was not good planning. Shorebirds would have been easier to find with more exposed mud. And there were no swallows flying either. A distant group of shorebirds turned out to be Western Sandpipers. Nearby there were several larger wading birds, the more expected Greater Yellowlegs and a smaller one, a Lesser Yellowlegs, a great find at this date.
Point Reyes Station had Eurasian Collared Doves, of course, but also a few Mourning Dove. Despite searching a lot there was not a Mockingbird to be found. The wind had picked up and finding common species like a titmouse became a time consuming effort.
Further down Cypress Road the branches near the Wood Duck pond sheltered a couple of Black-crowned Night Herons, but no Wood Ducks. The pond near the horse corral lacked a gallinule or a Green Heron. Somehow I had left my energy snacks in the car so I had to make an unplanned stop at the Palace Market for trail mix, juice and cheese popcorn.
A Virginia Rail clattered as I rode by Olema Marsh, but Bear Valley was fairly quiet. Biking the six miles down to Five Brooks Pond was easy enough. I had high hopes for a number of birds there and I was happy to find a few including a couple of Wood Ducks at the far end of the pond. A flock of Bushtits busily moved through the willow branches while a Downy Woodpecker came down for a look, but the Pileated Woodpecker I had heard in the same area a week before remained quiet.
I was relieved to get to the top of the hill south of Five Brooks. It was the last one and it would be flat or downhill to Bolinas. There would be a few easy birds there, I was certain.
At 4:30 pm I figured there were at least a couple hours of daylight and not too much ground to cover. Mudflats now exposed along the edge of Bolinas Lagoon showed me Green-winged Teal, American Wigeon and avocets. After hiding my bike I walked through the luxuriant alders of Pine Gulch Creek preserve. I hoped to find the flock of chickadees that often harbor less common species, but the woods were mostly quiet.
I walked out to the delta where Pine Gulch creek flows into the lagoon. This spot is always worth checking and often dozens of gulls, terns and ducks bathe and gather. Northern Pintails fed in the shallows while curlews and Marbled Godwits probed in the mud in the tidal flats to the south. As I walked back a few Savannah Sparrow hopped up out of the pickleweed.
Getting so many species so late in the day was a great bonus. I knew about half an hour more biking should get me a couple more birds. Downtown Bolinas has many treats; check it out if you haven’t before. A short distance past the stores is Wharf Road with a great view out to the mouth of the lagoon. In just a few minutes I saw them, a swirling group of Elegant Terns. Across the water a group of dark gulls rested on the sand, Heermann’s Gulls.
As I biked up the Bolinas Mesa I figured I could find at least one more bird and potentially several more by looking out from the bluff above Duxbury Reef. As I hopped off my bike and moved quickly to the vantage point the sun was slipping into the low coastal clouds. Aside from the wonderful variety of birds I had been able to find there were some great landscapes and simply being outdo