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San Francisco and the Bay Area Friday 18th November - Sunday 4th December

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Old Sunday 11th December 2016, 18:12   #1
Kibet
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San Francisco and the Bay Area Friday 18th November - Sunday 4th December

I put the trips I was planning on the California board. If there was a walk from the Golden Gate Audubon Society, I typically scheduled it to attend. These walks are marked “(GGAS)” in the report. The vast majority of the time I used public transport as most sites were close to or in the city and I did not want to worry about driving in the US. Most travel was under 10 dollars for the day, some under 5 dollars. When I spent more, I will mention it. In all, my cost of travel during the week was 220 USD (70 Clipper (BART/BUS), 130 Uber (one large trip between hotels, otherwise it would be 100) and 20 on Airport Shuttle).

I have a tendency to shorten names, but hope they become obvious. I have used the proper names too. Examples are California Scrub Jays becoming Scrubbies, and Californian Towhees becoming Cal Tows. Sometimes the American Crows and American Coots, are just referred to as Crows and Coots. Do not take it as I was seeing Carrion Crows or Eurasian Coots. I arrived on Day 0, so Day 1 is start of the birdwatching. Sites visited on that day are giving in the subtitle.

I am an opportunistic birder, so if I come across something then “great”, if not, then “ah well”. Also, to pre warn, I will be talking about other things in the report that were memorable and what I seen will not be exhaustive, as I am typically not a list taker. I did set a goal of 56 species to photograph, simply to take me above the 300 mark. They did not need to be good pictures, they are typically just for me. All shots were using a Canon 7D MKII with 400mm 5.6L.

Paraphrasing Leslie Neilsen, I do not look to take good pictures to feel bad, I look to take bad pictures but feel good.
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Old Sunday 11th December 2016, 18:23   #2
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Day 1 Friday 18th November

Corona Heights (GGAS) – Buena Vista Park – Stow Lake – Strawberry Hill

After travelling to the hotel the night before, sleep was on my mind. A conveyor belt broke at SFO and so one of my bags was stuck between the plane and the baggage hall. They gave me two options, wait an hour in case it is resolved or go to the hotel and they would deliver it. I chose the latter as it meant free bag delivery! The bag was waiting for me in the morning when I woke up.

I was at Corona Heights for sunrise at around 0700. The walk was due to start at 0800, so I wandered around close to the starting point. My first bird of the day, an Anna’s Hummingbird, so close that I had to back off about a meter in order for me to take the picture. This was one that I was looking forward to get. The Anna’s was swiftly followed by a fly by of a flock of Red-Masked Parakeets, A couple of distant Ravens and then a raptor in the distance.

Then a “Gentleman” behind me started to take off his trousers and putting on another pair. As he muttered to himself, I tried to avoid drawing attention to myself, before he started climbing up a hill through scrubland. I carried on, being rewarded with a Fox Sparrow and a California Towhee (Cal Tows). At this point, the leader of the walk Brian turned up, followed by a police car looking for the previously mentioned “Gentleman”.

As everyone else started to show up, we started the trip by checking the trees on the side of the road as we made the way to the park entrance. Immediately, we were greeted by Yellow-Rumped Warbler, Pygmy Nuthatches who go about in little family groups, Dark-Eyed Junco and a Downy Woodpecker. The woodpecker was followed by a Red-Tailed Hawk parking itself in the sun on a nearby tree, and being harassed by an American Crow.
When we entered the park, a Cooper’s Hawk flew in and conveniently parked itself in a tree for everyone to have a good look. This was followed by a California Scrub Jay, Black Phoebe and American Robin as we went up the hill (hence the name “Heights”). Descending the hill again, we found a spot next to a red berry bush with a tree of about 10 Cedar Waxwing, coming in to feed. They were joined in the area by Mocking Bird, Hermit Thrush and a Northern Flicker.
We carried on our descent to the lawn to finish the walk, which I had then discovered at some point I had turned a wrong button on my camera, and I had been firing on wrong settings for most of the day. We ended the walk to feeding White-crowned sparrows on the lawn and American Bushtit in the bushes. As the final group, a few had left earlier as they had to go to work, broke up, a Merlin flew over our heads.

I carried on to Buena Vista Park, a short 5 minute walk away. As I was now walking on my own, I was conscious of wandering around a park on my own with camera and binoculars. I walked to the summit, and confirmed that the park was appropriately named, looking over SF and the GG Bridge. After seeing more scrubbies and juncos, I found my first Golden Crowned Sparrow.

After a brief chat with a Park Gardener on what I was taking pictures of, and exchanging warnings. Myself about a Hornet’s nest or Bee hive I had seen, and them warning me about Coyotes (which in hindsight I should have listened to, more on that later), I left the park rather uneventfully.

I walked along Haight Street, picking up a hat for Sunday night (for an event I was attending), I carried on to GG Park, spotting a Brewer’s Blackbird at the side of the road. After a slight harassment from the young homeless (which I had been briefly warned about), due to the hat being in a brown paper bag and Haight Street being known for other “Recreational Activities”, I arrived at Stow Lake.

Stow Lake seemed to be the typical boat pond with American Coot and Mallard, which people were feeding. Also joining them was Double-Crested Cormorant, Ring-necked duck and Northern Shoveler. A couple of Raccoons walked in the water close by, giving everyone a bit of space. I hoped that had been the only encounter with Raccoons, but more on that later. I crossed the bridge to climb Strawberry Hill in the middle of Stow Lake, where I got more views of Red-Tailed Hawkand Cal Tows.

After returning to hotel, I was out again in the evening to a writing event. I had to walk twice for this, once on the way there as the Bus had to be turned around due to a blocked street (police arrests) and then the second was on the return when I could not find the bus stop for my connection. In SF, some bus stops are just painted yellow telegraph poles with bus numbers on them. Worth noting.

Safely, or so I thought, at the hotel, I was having a smoke in the car park, when I notice little legs on the first floor of the hotel. As they reached the stairs, I found orange glowing eyes of raccoons staring at me. Cautiously, one at a time, they came down the stairs, checked me again and gave me a wide berth as they crossed the car park. After the third one went across, the fourth one paused and looked at me. I happen to glance to my left and two of them were sneaking up on me. One raised itself onto two feet before dropping and taking another tentative step forward. I did not stick around and so survived my first “gang” attack in SF.

(Link to pictures will follow as some are too large to upload here)
Photographed Species 22/56
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Old Sunday 11th December 2016, 18:31   #3
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Day 2 Saturday 19th November

El Polin Spring – Crissy Field Marsh – Fort Mason Community Garden

I let people know at the novel writing event that I was planning to do bird watching and if anyone wanted to attend, then they were more than welcome. There was one person that took me up on the offer and would attend with a friend.

El Polin Spring was on the Presidio and was a 15 minute walk from the hotel I was staying at. I was there about 10 minutes before sunrise. Noticing some sparrows on the ground with the low light was too hard to identify. With sunrise expected, the rain started as I wandered around the small area, doing a couple of videos as I waited.

Northern Flicker called from the top of some pine trees, with American Crows flying over. A Cooper’s Hawk flew in and rested on a distant telegraph pole. White-Crowned Sparrow came in, and a couple of Spotted Towhee started to call from the brush, only identified after seeing then later. Anna’s were also around, making their shrill call.

The writer arrived with their friend and I gave them my spare set of bins. Walking around, I pointed out the Anna’s, white crowned, Flicker and Cal Tows seen. My very limited knowledge, based on what I had learned about them the day before, I pointed out the display of the Anna’s, the colour of the males head and for checking the crown of the sparrow. As an introduction, my small descriptions were enough.

Then the rain got heavier, so we sheltered under a tree, hoping that it would pass. It didn’t and so we decided to call it a day, after an hour and a half. Walking back to the hotel, the rain eased up and I decided to turn down to Crissy Field Marsh.

And as soon as I arrived, the rain started once more. With Brewer’s Blackbird and Raven on the ground, as fumbled with my camera and trying to wipe the water away from the view finder, I missed the shots. A “Headless” shot of a sheltering Double-Crested Cormorant, was another failed start, but I was rewarded shortly after with a Say’s Phoebe at the edge of the trail.

As I reached the start of the marsh, the rain stopped briefly for Snowy Egret, a Brown Pelican taking off, Long-billed Curlew, Willet and Killdeer. The rain then started once again and stayed light and constant for the rest of the day. Carrying on up the marsh, a flock of 40 Peeps (still to identify) flew by, and I got my first of many shots of Bufflehead. Red-Breasted Merganser and Eared Grebe in the center and a Belted Kingfisher at the end of the marsh. There were plenty of gulls (at least 3 types), although I mark them to identify later in life (sorry Gull people).

On my way back up the marsh, sheltering from the rain behind bushes when I could, three Marbled Godwit greeted me at the top. Moving on, I went to Fort Mason Community Garden with the clothes now sticking to me due to the rain. A small but active garden, and became one of my favourite places.

The sparrows were very active, with White and Golden crowned, Fox, and White-Throated Sparrow carrying on regardless of the rain. The Cal Tows really act like our blackbirds, as they feed. As I sheltered under the tree, there was a nice Audubon Yellow Rumped Warbler, showing off the yellow crown, a Black Phoebe enduring the rain and a Mockingbird. I also got a sparrow that looked like a Fox sparrow but with a well defined white bib, which I found out later was the resident “weird” Fox.

Calling it as “too wet”, I headed to a nearby café to meet fellow writers, where we wrote for a couple of hours as I partially dried. Returning to the hotel, I changed into something dry and got a couple of weird looks as I requested old newspapers, until I explained it was for my shoes. I then went out for an out of towners meeting in the evening with other writers.

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Old Sunday 11th December 2016, 18:37   #4
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Day 3 Sunday 20th November

Fort Mason Community Garden (GGAS)

“Heavy Rain Cancels” is often used on the GGAS website. Define heavy rain though, as it was only threatening to be like yesterday. I decided to chance it anyway, and not wanting to get any more wet clothes, I put the slightly damp clothes from yesterday on. UK People, learn to appreciate our radiators, as “Air conditioners does not a good clothes dryer make”.

I am glad I did, as the rain was off for most of the day, only coming down in force at the end. The Leader turning up early was a good sign, and with a brief walk in the garden with the two of us, seeing Orange-Crowned and Nashville Warbler before others started to arrive. 15 in total braved the weather, with one also from the Friday walk.

As soon as we entered, we got a lovely example of a Golden Crowned and Fox sparrow. The others also got good views of the Orange Crowned and Nashville, so they did not miss a thing, I just got a preview. The sun came out to illuminate a perched male Anna’s making the head into a shiny purple beacon. Followed by a Red-Tailed Hawk landing in the nearby pine tree at the edge of the garden, giving a good view for all. A few Lesser Goldfinch then came into the garden, as well as the resident Mockingbird with a funny white spot. Eurasian Starling sat on the buildings close by.

Leaving the garden, we searched a palm tree for a Great-Horned Owl, to no avail, but did get sights of DC Cormorant, and fly overs of Brown Pelican. As we sheltered under a large pine tree, Someone spotted 5 Pygmy Nuthatches right above our heads. As we called an end to the proceedings due to the weather, and the end for the birding side of the day for me, I wandered up for Brunch with the writers.

My jacket was dripping so much water in the diner, I got my very own “Wet Floor” sign. I dried off later at the hotel and went to the main Writing event for the evening, where 250 people eat candy, whilst typing on their laptops or scribbling in their notebooks for 7 hours. We also got treated to videos of how the outreach to have 80,000 school children writing their very own novels.

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Old Sunday 11th December 2016, 18:44   #5
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Day 4 Monday 21st November

Hawk Hill

Every year, from mid-August through to mid-December, Volunteers give up a day a fortnight to count raptor migration in the bay area. With 14 groups, a lot of committed people give a little and gain a lot of information of the movements of raptors. So what better place for me to see some raptors than joining a Hawk Watch for the day. I knew it was going to be low counts as it was getting to the end of the mass movements.

After a late night at the event, getting back and in bed by midnight, and not wanting to hike 3 miles at the start of the day, I used an Uber instead to get me at the base of Hawk Hill by 0800 (20 dollars). I knew the watchers would not be around for 90 minutes, as counting did not start until 1000. So I wandered around at the top, getting shots of Spotted Towhee, Yellow Rumped, Black Phobe, Ravens playing (doing upside down displays) and my first Bewick’s Wren. As the watchers started to arrive, I introduced myself and they quite happily explained behaviour and identifying Turkey Vulture as a distance (wobbly flight) and the landscape markers so that when they called out something, I could get on it. Many Red-Tails were around, and Juv Tails were soon added to the lingo (Juvenile Red-Tailed Hawks).

As the sun warmed everything up, I noticed things started to get a little “Hazy”. Not my memory, my lens. Water had got in with the constant rain over the past couple of days and with the temperature difference today, it had started to dry and fog up the glass. Curses, as my autofocus struggled to cope with the condensation as Red Tails and TVs flew overhead. And it was only 10:00, I was going to be up here for another 6 hours.

I managed to manually focus on some Western Bluebirds, and other than a few test shots, I found myself satisfied just watching with my bins and listening to how the observers were working out what they were seeing. One exception was when a Bald Eagle flew across, and knowing that it would be terrible, I set out trying to get the shots. It was a bad shot, but it did make me feel good, seeing the distinctive white head.

Then at 1200, everything became clear again. Not a pure moment of revelation, just my lens again, drying out and suddenly the shots of the Red Tails and TVs started to come out and the AF kicked in. Northern Harrier (our Hen Harrier) flew by distantly, with Peregrine Falcons high over Alcatraz, and white tailed Deer and Bobcats trying to keep up on the mammal side. A Merlin flew overhead and distant views of Osprey, Sharp-shinned and Red-Shouldered Hawks. With four quadrants for me to run between, I missed a fair few. Visit GGRO Daily hawk count for full list and to work out the best time if raptors are of interest.

The kindness of birders set in, with one putting me in contact with someone else from Scotland, who (spoiler alert) I meet later on in the trip and suggested a another trip to add to my itinerary. The next act of kindness was one of the volunteers willing to drop me off at the other side of the GG Bridge at the Presidio. This was not the last act of kindness shown to me during the trip, as you shall see.

Photographed Species 42/56
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Old Sunday 11th December 2016, 18:55   #6
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Day 5 Tuesday 22nd November

Fort Mason Community Garden – Crissy Field Marsh – El Polin Spring

With my last day in San Francisco, before I headed to my next set of hotels in Berkeley, and with the promise of a sunny day, I decided to revisit the rainy day areas. If they managed to impress me in the rain, then I wanted to experience them in the sun. And they did not disappoint.

Starting off at the Community Gardens, I found the leader from the Sunday walk, who visits almost every day. He had just spotted a Bullock’s Oriole and was having a look for it. We could not find it but were greeted with Downey and Nuttall’s Woodpecker, and a group of rather lovely House Finches, the males having a rather nice red complexion. Entering the garden, a pair of American Robin were moving around, making me think they were the Oriole. The resident, funny white patched, Mockingbird also taunted us with the size. A Song Sparrow joined the other flavours of sparrows seen the other days.

Then, the Bullock’s Oriole flew in giving me a good half a second view in the bins before disappearing into a tree. It is amazing the impression you can get for such a short time. As we waited for the Oriole to reappear, we got great views of the Nashville Warbler that sat quite conveniently in a palm tree for pictures, before being joined by a Townsend’s Warbler.

Unfortunately, I had to call an end to my little visit as I was already late for a coffee meet with a writing friend. Reluctantly leaving the garden, I took a vow that if I got a chance, I would revisit the Magical Garden.

After my coffee meet, I carried down to Crissy Marsh, finding a Belted Kingfisher sitting on a mast at the Yacht Harbour, followed by a Snowy Egret fluffed out to intimidate a gull and finally getting a decent shot of a Brewer’s Blackbird in the parking lot. The Marbled Godwit, Long-Billed Curlew, Willet and Killdeer welcomed me back to the Marsh. Many of the same species from the rainy days were present, with the addition of a Great White Egret, Pied Grebe that was swimming at my walking speed, and DC Cormorants doing some sort of vocal behaviour.

Anna’s were perched on the top of bushes, and spotted a female Ruddy Duck. On the way back up the marsh, the Belted Kingfisher flew in and landed on a mud island close to a Great Blue Heron. I took a shot as I thought it was unusual, with my limited knowledge, that it should land on the mud. Later, reviewing the image, it was enjoying a nice fish meal.

Returning to El Polin Spring, I was not expecting much activity as the day started to move to the afternoon. The better light allowed nice shots of a perched Northern Flicker and then spotted a Coyote by the trees. After a brief walk around, I sat down on a bench to see what would come along. Song Sparrow, White-Crowned and a Scrubby showed up, likely expecting I was having a picnic. They were disappointed, but I was not, as I got some nice shots of them waiting expectantly. With Black Phoebe showing up, followed by shots of a flying Northern Flicker, the Coyote showed up again. I did a video speaking quietly as it lurked around, seemingly more interested in the shouts and a dog bark in the background.

As I got up to leave, the Coyote started to head in the same direction as me, at the same speed. I kept my eyes on it the whole time, as was slightly unnerved and with my brush with the Raccoon gang, I did not want anything closely resembling it with a larger mammal. Whether it got distracted or simply held up by some scrubland, I managed to get ahead, surviving to move to the first Berkeley hotel, write this entry and inflict my narrative on you.

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Old Sunday 11th December 2016, 19:03   #7
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Interlude - The adventure will continue

That is the San Francisco part done. I will enter further days soon. For now, some photos but a complete set can be found here.

Unfortunately, all my Anna's Hummingbirds are so close, the files are too big to upload, so you will need to visit link.
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Old Sunday 11th December 2016, 19:21   #8
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Got a Ph. D and can't resize a photo?

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Old Sunday 11th December 2016, 19:45   #9
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Haha. Not with the time constraints I have. Maybe by the end of my trip report I might have time. After all, you know how awesome the Anna's are.
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Old Sunday 11th December 2016, 19:50   #10
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True. Best seen in high resolution!

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Old Monday 12th December 2016, 05:12   #11
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Fine shots of a the Coyote and the Pelican

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Old Monday 12th December 2016, 06:37   #12
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Thank you Mike.

And there you go Rob, when I have a bit of time I can come up with an alternative.
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Old Monday 12th December 2016, 06:47   #13
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Day 6 Wednesday 23rd November

Lake Merritt (GGAS)

For my third GGAS walk, and my first in the East Bay was Lake Merritt. The hotel I was staying at offered a free Shuttle to the BART (and within 3 miles of the hotel). The night before, I asked when it started running and they said 0700. That was suitable and so the next morning , I went along at 0720 and asked to use the shuttle only to be told the next one was at 0800. Why they did not tell me it was running every hour last night? Luckily, I had enough time to walk 15 minutes and get the normal bus.

Once at Lake Merritt, the US first official wildlife refuge, I was one of the first to arrive and started to have a look around at the meeting point. Great White and Snowy Egrets, DC Cormorants, Canvasback, American Coots, Buffleheads and Scaups (Greater and Lesser) were immediately obvious. Once the leaders and the other participants arrived, and scopes were out, Barrow’s Goldeneye as well as Common Goldeneye were spotted. An American White Pelican flew in to join the resident flightless Pelican. Moving up the path, a juvenile Black-Crowned Night Heron preened itself on a nearby fence, not bothering with us as we walked past.

The North part of Lake Merritt was more diving ducks, with Ruddy Duck, Pied Grebe and Red-breasted Merganser, joining the list. The Scaup were checked for pony tails in the hope that The Tufted Duck that has been visiting for years would return. No joy, on that front. On one of the Islands, a Green Heron popped up and started to act aggressively to a Gull and Crow, which threatened their perch.

Moving on to the Lakeside Park, we searched for the “Magic Tree”, a tree that is bursting with activity and moves every month. No tree really stood out though , but a couple of TVs flew overhead and an odd Red-Tailed Hawk. The garden at the park had the most activity, with the various White and Golden Crowned Sparrows, Chestnut-Backed Chickadees, American Bushtits and Black Phoebes. A little fountain was discovered where Yellow-Rumped Warbler and Lesser Goldfinch were coming in for a bath.

I had a lunch meeting with the Director of the writing program, and one of the Leaders offered to drop me off as it was in her neighbourhood. The other Leader also told me to email her and she would forward details about another walk on Tuesday with a different group. Kindness of Birders again.

It was very interesting to see the different approaches by the leaders of the walk. No matter how many regulars there are, every one of them always made sure that it was open to new people. None of them have skipped over the "Usual birds" which has made it much easier for me to learn about the Californian birds.

Photographed Species 55/56

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Old Monday 12th December 2016, 06:57   #14
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Day 7 Thursday 24th November

César Chávez Park and McLaughlin East Shore State Park

Before heading across, I had assumed that the US Thanksgiving would be the same as UK Christmas with no public transport (it ended up being a Sunday Service). As a result, I chose a hotel in easy walking distance to the César Chávez Park. One of the main targets was Burrowing Owl, that nest in the park.

I was out again for sunrise, hoping to see it before the park started to get busy. On the walk to the corner that was the nesting ground, fenced to avoid people walking over the burrows, I got my first sight of White-Tailed Kite. A few photographs of Buffleheads and a Black-Tailed Jackrabbit, I realised that my camera settings were wrong again. After no Burrowing Owl, and pretty much no protective fence, after 15-20 minutes, I decided to move on and come back the same way later. I do not have too much luck with Owls.

Walking to the far corner of the park on the perimeter path, I had to back track to get a shot of a Red-Winged Blackbird. Very little was out on the bay at the far corner other than a Western Grebe, and with a rather chilly wind, I headed back to the Burrowing Owl corner. The White-Tailed Kite did an aerial display of the hunting hover, before getting chased off by a Crow. A lone male House Finch popped up on a nearby bush, and then I froze as I saw a pair of beady little eyes popping over the rock.

Slowly, I raised my binoculars wondering how different a Burrowing Owl head was to other owls. Then I realised why. It was not the owl but a Californian Ground Squirrel. The Owl was a no go, and so I moved on, enjoying the powerboat display of the Buffleheads in a mix with Ruddy Ducks. The Male Bufflehead does a bobbing head display before charging for a couple of meters. With the Sun in the right direction, the purples and greens really showed through. A Savannah Sparrow then popped up next to the water edge.

I decided to check out the final corner of the park which had trees and bushes. Finding a little alcove, I noticed a Toyon tree, the tree with the red berries that I saw the Cedar Waxwings on the first Friday walk. Looking up, about a dozen Cedar Waxwings were perched on a sentry tree. I sat down on a tree stump and waited. No feeding shots though, but a Hermit Thrush also headed into the area, followed by a Chestnut-Backed Chickadee. As I tried to get the elusive shot of the Chickadee, the Waxwings took off. A few seconds later, the reason came flying in. A Merlin with some sort of prey and looking for a perch to eat and rather inconveniently chose a nice spot behind a tree trunk.

As soon as I moved, the Merlin was off. I sat back down to wait, and a Northern Flicker popped in to do a calling display. The Cedar Waxwings did a couple of fly-bys checking whether the Merlin was still present. A few more shots of them and I realised that my presence was probably what was keeping them from coming to my side of the bush so I moved on. Returning through the Car Park, I tracked a Ruby-Crowned Kinglet.

Carrying on to the McLaughlin East Shore State Park, I walked up the bay trail, seeing Snowy Egret, and American Wigeon (swimming in the middle of Coots). A small group of birds were then seen on the grass side of the path. Looking relatively large, with defined eyestripe and yellow underparts, I assumed it was the Meadowlark that I heard people refer to earlier in the week. It ended up that it was indeed the Western Meadowlark.

Walking into the East Shore Park, I sat on a bench and watched raptors starting to come in with White-Tailed, TVs and Red-Tailed Hawk, and a distant Osprey. Gulls were flying over and as I started a video, I noticed another “Gull” flying over and realised it was the Osprey sailing through as it passed over my head. Someone who watched the video said it was the least excited reaction seen of me working out it was an Osprey.

Walking back through the park, and down the bay trail, the tide had started to go out, so I was treated to Sanderlings, Spotted Sandpiper and Willet. The final bird for the day was a juvenile Gull picking up a tennis ball and flying off with it before other gulls could steal it. It promptly dropped it in the water, landed next to it, lost interest and flew off.

Photographed Species 63/56

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Old Monday 12th December 2016, 07:06   #15
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Day 8 Friday 25th November

University of California Berkeley Botanical Gardens and McLaughlin East Shore State Park

I was in the car park of the UCB Botanical Gardens by 0800, about an hour before it opened. So I wandered around the car park and checked out the trees. My first bird of the day was not in the tree but under it, a survivor of Thanksgiving, the Wild Turkey. The others that were around were Scrubbies (California Scrub Jay that I started to call them about this time) feeding on acorns, Cal Tows, Golden Crowned Sparrows, House Finch, Northern Flicker and of course, the Anna’s. A Red-Tailed Hawk perched far off on a pylon.

Once the garden opened, I planned on spending the day there. The weather was cold and cloudy, with the sun not even making an attempt to break through. Everything was very quiet, considering the amount of activity in the car park, as I made my way through the Deserts of the Americas section. Entering into Asia, it all seemed to have little activity, then I came across a rather startling bird perched on a bench in the lawn at the Chinese medicine garden.

With a deep blue body, and black head with a crest. I took a photograph before having a proper look with bins, noticing blue flashy “eyebrows”. Using the benefit of my “beginnerness” to birding (3.5 years), I looked at what family it most closely resembled. Initial GISS (or jizz or Gestalt, whatever you prefer) was that it was a corvid, then it flew and resembled a Magpie, helping to confirm I was on the right track, before it called and removed all doubt. It was a Steller’s Jay (which I later found out on an information post in the California section of the Garden).

I stayed in the lawn for a while, with Eastern Fox Squirrel, and American Robin in the tree tops. With no further activity, I entered Australasia to see a single Hermit Thrush. South America gave a few more views of Steller’s Jay and Anna’s. The Rose Garden gave Dark Eyed-Junco, Golden-Crowned and Cal Tows. Moving up to the Mediterranean section, I was greeted to a skulking Spotted Towhee and a bush of American Bushtits, which were promptly chased away unintentionally by a 3 year old.

Coming back down to the crops section, there seemed to be slim pickings. Heading to the Pine/Oak woodland, it was quieter with less people wandering around (although voices could still be heard, and possibly louder than the Steller’s from earlier). Hoping for insect foragers, I scanned the tree trunks for any form of movement. Nothing, and so I went on to the California section, where I found what looked to be a good place for things to pass through. 20 minutes, and the only thing heard was an Anna’s and the only thing seen was a Fox Squirrel.

I left the Botanical Garden at around 1200 and was met with so much bird song outside in the car park. Walking down the hill to the university campus, marveling on how a footpath gets narrower and narrower before disappearing on a bend while hoping that cars slowed down enough to avoid me. I went past the California Golden Bears stadium preparing for a game the next day, and once on campus, I checked out where we would be meeting for tomorrow’s walk.

Rather than waiting on a bus, I decided to carry on walking back to the hotel (stopping off at a supermarket for food) as I would be passing the East Shore park again. Passing by the edge of the Aquatic Park, next to the overpass, there was Snowy Egret, American Coot and Canada Goose. Black Phoebe greeted me at the entrance of the East Shore Park, followed by a group of Western Meadowlark, which was about the same number as the day before.

I arrived at a bench, where the day before, at around the same time, I had been treated to a display of the raptors. It seemed quieter again, but it was a nice enough place to sit, having something to eat and “not watching” the world go by. Joining onto the Virginia St extension for the shore birds, I noted Sanderlings, Willets, Greater Yellowlegs and a little flock of peeps. The sun was facing me as I was coming up to the small flock foraging, so I walked away from the edge, and did a U, to get a view of them with the sun at my back. They carried on foraging, and turning over stones, as they were Black Turnstones. Incidentally, they did not seem to be selective on the colour of the stones. A couple more American Wigeon than the day before joined the Coots.

I started to do a video, and as I mentioned about the lack of raptors in the sky, I found a White-Tailed Kite hovering behind me. Stopping the video to take some photographs, I restarted the video after it went down, only to notice some doves. Carrying on filming, I showed people back home that it looked like when I viewed something through binoculars, as assumed I finally had seen collared doves. I stopped the video after realising they were not collared but Mourning Doves. I finished off the day with a photograph of an Anna’s feeding, taking a slow shutter speed to show how fast the wings go and yet how still they keep the body.

Photographed Species 67/56
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Old Monday 12th December 2016, 07:13   #16
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Day 9 Saturday 26th November

University of California Berkeley Campus (GGAS)

Another rainy Saturday, although this time I armed myself with an umbrella as did not want a repeat of a rain soaked camera. The leader of the walk had told me in advance that the walk would go ahead, so it was good to know beforehand. I checked out of my hotel and dropped my bags off at the next hotel, so I did not need to carry them around.

I sheltered under an alcove for the worst of the weather, looking out at the redwoods next to meeting point at the Life sciences building. A few others turned up and we had a general chat, with very little interruption with birds as it was so wet.

The walk was different to the others, with an introduction about how bird surveys were done almost 100 years ago on the campus. Interesting little titbits like the changing of names of the birds overtime and how the overall number of species had not changed, although the type of species had changed with the landscape. For example, Western Meadowlarks were common in the 1920s, with likely more wilder grasslands, compared to now with the more well maintained lawns.

The rain stopped very soon after the walk started, although there was very little activity. A few Cal Tows giving good views, American Crows and Ravens flying around was the only activity for the first part of the walk. This allowed to learn a bit about the campus as we moved around the location. It also allowed a good amount of time looking at Dark-Eyed Juncos, which may have been passed over if activity was higher.

A few calls from the Chestnut-Backed Chickadee or a flutter of activity from the Yellow-Rumped Warbler, gave some fun as we perched in front of a tree trying to see where they were and putting the others on them too. Anna’s called, and did their usual convenient display to allow everyone to see it. Then we got to the magic tree, and you could feel the relief of the leader who must have been feeling the stress of a quiet day due to the inclement weather.

I have borrowed the “Magic Tree” from the Lake Merritt terminology for the “tree of the day” where there is a lot of action. The call of a Ruby-Crowned Kinglet caused us to stop at this tree and was rewarded with the ruby crown on display. Further up in the tree, a Townsend’s Warbler also flitted and fed, followed by Chestnut-backed Chickadees. To finish off the tree, in came an Oak Titmouse, another crested bird like the Steller’s.

Finishing off the walk, we were treated to a view of another Oak Titmouse. Then someone noticed a Brown Creeper crawling up the side of a footbridge, before hopping to a tree to give a more natural view.

I had originally planned at popping up to Claremont Canyon, however with the threat of rain and being caught in a very muddy place deterred me on this. As I was still between hotels, I settled in a café to go through images and write for the novel writing month.

When I checked into the hotel, it was very busy due to the Golden Bears game and the hotel was hosting a tailgate party. Luckily, the festivities ended as soon as the game did and so everything became quiet by early evening.

Photographed Species 69/56
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Old Monday 12th December 2016, 07:24   #17
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Day 10 Sunday 27th November

Garretson point & Arrowhead Marsh (GGAS)

Clicking on my Calendar in the morning to work out the public transport for getting to Garretson point, I found that the Bart did not start until 0800. So I arranged for an Uber and it cost me only a couple dollars more than public transport would have (8 USD).

Arriving at Garretson point, I had about an hour before others would arrive (you can probably see a pattern here). Walking along the shore, I could see various rafts, which included American Coots, Ruddy Ducks and Western Grebes. Moving further around, I finally got a picture of a lone Pied Grebe in the sun, followed by a Willet that was not bothered by me waiting for the sun to move up in the sky to remove the shadow on it.

The leader and others, including Calvinfold from Birdforum, started to arrive and we were treated with a raft of American Avocet. At the reedbed, where the avocets had been earlier, the Scaup (Lesser and Greater) had started to wake, and also were joined by Ruddy Duck and Northern Pintail. A Starling perched on a wire at the bridge as somebody asked if I could take the Stalings back to Europe and we continued along the path to Black and Say’s Phoebe. As the group stayed behind the leader, it allowed time for people to get on it. A Nuttall’s Woodpecker called and one of the participants was able to track it allowing others to follow and get nice views of it travelling up a tree trunk. I got a nice ID shot of an Osprey flying off, which I would have been rather happy about if it was not for what happened later. The final bird before we left for Arrowhead Marsh was a Spotted Sandpiper.

Upon arriving at the Marsh, one of the regulars already had the spotting scope on the Ridgway’s Rail, where one conveniently sat at the edge of the reeds allowing good views. Another stood a little to the left, more camouflaged and hidden in the reeds. The pier had Black-Necked Stilt with Marbled Godwit mixed in and joined by a lone Double-Crested Cormorant which I got pulling a comedic face. We were then treated to a male and female Northern Harrier (Hen Harrier) hunting low over the marshes. This was quickly followed by a pair of Peregrine Falcons, which nest on a nearby disused railway bridge, flying overhead.

A small group (me included) broke away from the main party to take a walk up the canal to the site for Burrowing Owls. As we reached the canal, another Spotted Sandpiper was hunkered down on the other side. Wetlands at the side gave Lesser Yellowlegs, Northern Shoveler and Blue-Winged Teal, with the latter two still sleeping. Incidentally, the water birds in SF do seem to like to sleep to very late in the day. A lovely example of a male Northern Pintail in the middle of the Canal joined some Coots.

The regular, who was not distracted by the Pintail (and various sparrows) and who had put his scope on the Rail earlier, had the scope already on the Burrowing Owl by the time we rounded the corner. Ignoring the man-made nesting mounds, the Burrowing Owl simply made the nest in the middle of the meadow next to a bush. The best thing the conservationists had done was simply build a worthwhile fence (compared to the César Chávez "bits of string", more on that later). The Burrowing Owl sat like a little mound of mud, eyes closed for the most part, giving us an occasional look, seemingly not bothered by Jackrabbits and Ground Squirrels prancing about.

Leaving the owl behind, as Raptors have been known to work out where people are looking or pointing at before, we carried on along the fence to the road that would lead us back to the car park. As we crossed the road, we saw a Horned Grebe in the water, and a Black Oystercatcher on the other side. As we headed to the cars at the car park, one of the group called out about an Osprey with a fish.

I look up and in perfect view overhead was the Osprey, carrying a fair sized fish. In situations like this, normally the light would be bad, or the sun was behind it, or my camera would fail to focus, or the subject would become shy and start flying away, or a wing would get in the way. Not this time, camera worked perfectly, and the sun was high and not flooding the Osprey into shadow. The legs were in perfect position holding the fish, so that both bird and fish were in profile. Now, that was a WOW moment!

One of the other birders offered to take me up to their house for some Acorn Woodpeckers, and I gladly accepted, especially when it came with the offer of finally having some Thanksgiving Turkey. The Turkey had other ideas, doing a somersault out of the Tupperware and landing on the floor. The birder’s cat remained uninterested until it was cleaned up and then proceeded to lick the carpet for trace turkey flavour. Instead, we had a lovely smoked salmon lunch, before heading up the hill to the land owned by Eugene O’Neill (American Playwright) Foundation.

We had only got into his garden, when we got the first Acorn Woodpecker in an oak tree with Wild Turkey below. The walk up the track gave us Dark-Eyed Juncos, Cal Tows and Oak Titmouse. As we got to the barn on the estate, which seemed to be set up as a theatre, there was a telegraph pole full of acorns, with an Acorn Woodpecker preparing the next hole for further winter supplies. We saw some split and dead trees from woodpeckers having put so many holes in the tree, it lost structural integrity.

Going further up the hill, we had a fly over from a flock of Band-Tailed Pigeons. A couple of oak trees to the side, showed Acorn and Nuttall’s Woodpeckers, with a little extra one of the White-Breasted Nuthatch. The walk got steeper and muddier, with my fitness and balance getting put through its paces. The light was starting to fail as we descended the hill, and lightening up some images later of silhouettes, we saw some small bird we had struggled with was a Ruby-Crowned Kinglet, and the final bird of the day was the Western Bluebird, perched on the wire as we walked through a suburbs street. I was dropped off at the nearby BART, to return for the evening after having a fantastic day.

Photographed Species 81/56
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Old Monday 12th December 2016, 07:32   #18
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Interlude II - For some more images

Anna's was 1/250 second compared to above which was 1/1600.
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Old Monday 12th December 2016, 07:35   #19
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And a few more

Some more perchy ones rather than flighty ones.
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Old Monday 12th December 2016, 08:23   #20
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Very enjoyable report - some great pictures there :-)
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Old Monday 12th December 2016, 14:26   #21
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Great report- it might inspire a few people to go birdwatching there.
I spent a few days walking along the waterfront past the Presido[is that where Chrissy fields is}
to Golden Gate Bridge and back.There was a great variety of waders,gulls ,herons and seabirds along the way especially when the westerly stirred up and blew lots of birds into the bay.
We used to go to Golden Gate park,the Bathouse[?] and saw some good birds on the trip to Alcatraz.
A great destination for birdwatching,sightseeing and enjoying the city which was very laid back and calm.
Happy memories!
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Old Monday 12th December 2016, 16:45   #22
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Thank you Stuart and Pratincol. Halfway there, and may get a chance to post more tonight or tomorrow. Some more fun to come.
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Old Monday 12th December 2016, 21:01   #23
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Day 11 Monday 28th November

Tilden Nature Area

I was almost tempted to skip this walk today, with the later finish and strenuous walk yesterday, a backlog of photographs to go through, and I would be visiting later in the week. Also with my “Gang attack” from the Raccoons, and the stalking by the Coyote, I was likely at this rate to run into a Mountain Lion, and as I would be on my own, and a workday, I would be more likely to be picked off.

Well, I risked my life to go on this trip, just so I could report back to you…okay I wanted to go, and going through the pictures could wait. Plus my legs had actually survived pretty well. A little later start, I was there by 0800 on a rather dull morning. I was dropped off, by an Uber (8 USD), to just over a dozen Wild Turkey and promptly found no cell reception. Not even emergency numbers. I was officially in a dead zone, so when the Mountain Lion did come forth, it would be mano-a-pato. I did not favour my chances. Luckily, I had been making videos to show online later and had begun a tendency to commentate aloud on what I was seeing, even when I was not recording a video. So, the Mountain Lion would at least hear me coming, and would not attack by being surprised by me.

The walk down to Jewel Lake was quiet, other than the Wild Turkeys, and it was only I got closer that I heard Steller’s Jay and Scrubbies. The lake itself seemed devoid of anything feathered, not even a coot or mallard. As it had only been half an hour since arriving, I decided to go down the path next to the lake, and take a walk around it. That path, was not a loop, but instead came to a forked trail which eventually went back to the car park, where I had started the day. I started the walk again.

The walk down to Jewel Lake was quiet, other than the Wild Turkeys, and it was… there was movement in some bramble-type bushes. With so much branches and twigs in the way, the speed of the bird hopping along, I knew that I had no chance of photographs. It was a Pacific Wren. This wren may have been too elusive for me to take a picture of, but it allowed me to get a photograph of a bird I had wanted all week, the Chestnut-Backed Chickadee. I could see that the picture was blurry as I got one shot off before it flew as my camera focussed on the twig behind, but I had it.

As I was walking doing another video to say about getting the CB Chickadee, I stopped to more Chickadee calls, and found the “Magic Zone”. In this 3-4 meter area, with trees on either side, that I had walked passed to nothing before, suddenly had a flurry of activity. The CB Chickadees, which I got better shots of, was followed by a Townsend’s Warbler, Ruby-Crowned Kinglet, Dark-Eyed Juncos, as a couple of Cal Tows rustled about on the pathway. A Brown Creeper came in with good light and side views, and a Spotted Towhee came up to have a look and pose for some photographs. The Oak Titmouse followed up the rear of the foragers as the magic was starting to dissipate. Steller’s and Scrubbies flew across the path (the latter whilst making another video), as a pair of American Crows flew higher up, and American Robin perched on the tall trees. So in the space of 20 minutes, in that Magic Zone, I had managed to see 12 species and improve on some photographs.

With no further activity, I walked a couple of minutes to find a Black Phoebe on the high bare branches of the pines. I was at a crossroads, and had to choose between trails. Now, I may have sounded organised so far, in fact I took a copy of the Tilden Nature Area Map of all the different trails. Unfortunately, not on the computer that I had with me or had access to, so I was blind. I took the left trail, heading up Wildcat Canyon. For the next 40 minutes, I saw no birds and only one person, probably not helped by the extremely slimy mud, before finally seeing GC Sparrows, followed quickly by another Spotted Towhee.

Another 40 minutes, and finally a Black Phoebe, which seemed to be in a more active area again, with four Robins flying overhead, six Acorn Woodpeckers congregating on a branch, Red-Tailed Hawk, followed by Turkey Vulture. The shrill of the Anna’s marked one that had been strangely absent all day, the first since I started the walk 4 hours ago. Northern Flicker went onto the Acorn Woodpecker tree, which was promptly chased off.

For the next 20 minutes, it seemed to be every 200 meters, there was a pair of Scrubbies, until finally one convinced me to take a photo of them. A small flock of American Bushtits foraged in a bush, which would be the final bird of the day. I found out that I could still get a GPS signal on my phone, so could see how far I had to walk to get off the track. After the Bushtits, people started to be a common sighting, and I eventually got on a road to civilisation.

Walking a couple of more miles to the BART Station, whilst stopping off at a discount grocery store, I took the return journey back to the hotel. It was probably one of the longer walks of the vacation so far at about 15 km (9 miles). I did take a nap when I got back to the hotel.

Photographed Species (to be filled in as now at hotel on different computer)
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Old Monday 12th December 2016, 21:15   #24
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Day 12 Tuesday 29th November

East Avenue Park (Tuesday4birdsfriends) – Lake Temescal

It was almost a week ago that I had been suggested the Tuesday4birdsfriends group by one of the leaders from the Lake Merritt walk. The leader had sent the calendar appointment, and I was able to transfer it. A Short BART ride, followed by a shorter bus ride, I was able to find the East Avenue park very easily. I would have been lost without an active mobile phone, with buses not stopping at all the stops and getting to destinations a lot quicker than scheduled. With the phone, I could track where I was and know when to get off.

I was not the first to arrive this time, with the birder who had found the Burrowing Owl from the Sunday walk already there. As the group started to arrive, those already there watched the trees on the other side, with flocks of American Robin coming across, House Finch, Ravens and Crows. We were about a group of 12 people and we did a round-robin (not a bird, so do not get too excited that I saw the elusive "round" variety) of introductions. No sooner had we started, we saw not one but two Red-Breasted Sapsuckers, one of the two targets that they had hoped for.

Allowing plenty of time to view, everyone got a chance to see it and the different markings. We walked around the inside perimeter of the park, spotting Anna’s, CB Chickadees and a number of Ruby-Crowned Kinglets. There was a call of a bird, and I put the small group that were at the back with me on what I was sure was a Mockingbird. This flew off after only a brief look, but down next to the group up front. As we went to join them, they asked if I had seen the black eyeline or the white outer tail feathers, which I could not be sure seeing anything distinct on the face and never saw the flight well as it flew towards the sun.

This is the great thing about birding though, it is okay to get it wrong, as long as you can learn from it, not making outlandish calls and it obviously helps if someone can correct you (and you are willing to be corrected). The amount of erroneous calls I have made, as only doing this for a few years and yet nearly all other birders I have came across will help rather than complain. Anyway, we caught up with the front group and I started mentioning where I thought the "Mockingbird" had gone down. Very conveniently it then popped up on top of the bush next to us, allowing the group to view it, and confirm it was indeed a Mockingbird, being a female with a less well defined eyeline.

A Red-Tailed Hawk, perched on a far eucalyptus tree, and further around a pair of Band-Tailed Pigeon were in front of a house. We descended into the valley, once again I was amazed at how parks in the SF and the Bay Area had such different terrain and areas being kept natural. The valley was cold and there was not much about, as we searched for the Pacific Wren (second target). I could see similar vegetation that I had spotted one in yesterday, but no joy. The group decided to call it a day, and I stayed down with another birder who wanted to have a longer wait.

It seemed to pay off, with a couple of stops made with some movement. Although, we only got a quick look all that could be said was that it was wren-movement. I managed to get a shot off with the camera, and reviewing later, with the much longer tail, it was likely a Bewick’s Wren, which the other birder had heard calling elsewhere. We heard a wind come down, and as I braced for a burst of cold, it was instead warm air. You can forget how cold a valley can get, whilst the rest of the world heats up in the morning sun.

As we headed up out the valley, I mentioned that I was probably going to have a look at Lake Temescal. The birder was actually from there, and so offered me a lift. When we did arrive, They decided to stick around as they mentioned it had been a while since they visited. A call came through, and another birder from the morning said that they too would head down to the lake.

Black Phoebes went after insects and Steller’s Jay crossed the trees. A pair of male and a single female Wood Duck, dabbled away at the pondweed on the surface at the lake. When the sun shone on the Male, the colours really showed up wonderfully. A Great Blue Heron tried to sleep at the edge of the lake (again with the snoozing birds at 1130) and we were treated to the sight of a Green Heron. A Pied Grebe was out in the middle, on its own (They appear not to be very social).

An Orange-Crowned Warbler foraged at the top of the bushes, as we took a leisurely walk around the lake, with Yellow-Rumped flicking about at the reeds. A Song Sparrow perched on the footbridge. Then a pair or Ruby-Crowned Males came in, with their crowns fully exposed. They did not seem to attack, only coming close to each other before one choosing to back off. There were a few more RC Kinglets, and reviewing later, none were the Hutton’s Vireo, which I still had not seen.

With the Hutton's Vireo, they joke about if you can not tell the difference then have a look at the feet. RC Kinglets have yellow feet. Well, good thing about photography is that you can have a look later.

With that, we went for lunch at a nearby diner, joined by one of the birder’s husband, where we talked about politics and furniture. They dropped me off at my hotel afterwards, saying it was just as easy as dropping me at the BART. Bay Birders really are that Awesome!

Photographed Species (To be filled later as above)
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Old Monday 12th December 2016, 21:20   #25
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Day 13 Wednesday 30th November

Moss Beach

Shorter bird day today, as it was the final writing day in November. For the first time, I wrote in the morning as was not getting up for sunrise. Instead, I went to the writing office and say goodbye. I did a little interview with the man in charge, and we worked out when I would likely visit again. If not before, my ten year anniversary of taking part would be good (couple of years away).

Afterwards, I hopped on the BART and headed to SF, getting picked up by a writing friend, who hoped to take me to one of their favourite birding sites. Her partner had been worried that as I did not know anyone in the area, I would be on my own all the time. As you can see from the above, I had very little time on my own.

The rain came in though, quashing the plan of visiting one of the sites. It did let up enough but as we walked around a redwood forest at Moss Beach, it was very quiet. There was only one burst of activity as we went to overlook out on the sea, where a couple of CB Chickadees and a Townsend’s Warbler moved about a tree. A pair of Black Oystercatchers and a few DC Cormorants were also the only sea birds seen.

We had a late lunch and then headed back to SF. Told you it was a short birding day.

Photographed Species (to be filled)
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