Monday, 11 July 2005

Trip report - California, 25-28 June, 4-7 July 2005


This is a brief summary of birds recorded on our first visit to the West Coast of the United States. The purpose of the trip was primarily to visit my brother-in-law and family in San Jose, and birds were seen along the way, rather than vice versa! Unlike the Nigeria bird trip report on this site there is no need for general info on travelling to the area, or its birds, so only a few brief highlights are mentioned.

Flights and preparation

We flew from Edinburgh via LHR and Calgary on Air Canada. Three species were noted at Calgary airport - Red-tailed Hawk, Black-billed Magpie and a single hirundine.

Bird information

Useful info on birding in the Bay area is here: San Francisco Bay bird observatory. A relevant summer trip report is here.

Bird records

On 25 June we did some shopping taking us south to Gilroy. At least 10 Turkey Vultures were logged along the valley south (HW101), along with Red-tailed Hawks and American Kestrels.

On 26 June we visited San Francisco and did the Bay tour past Alcatraz to the Golden Gate bridge; highlights were up to 20 Brown Pelicans over and fishing near the bridge, Snowy Egret over Alcatraz island, abundant Western Gulls* both along the coast (roof-nesters), following the boat and a large feeding flock at the tide surge under the bridge, Brandt's, Pelagic and Double-crested Cormorants, with large feeding flocks also under the bridge; several Common and Pigeon Guillemots were feeding on the sea. A single orange-billed tern distantly was presumably Caspian and this species was definitely seen over San Francisco Bay from HW101 near San Mateo, together with more numerous Forster's Terns. A group of 40 Cliff Swallows were seen feeding beside HW101, together with other hirundines and a few White-throated Swifts.

On 27 June we ventured out to Yosemite National Park, crossing the San Joaquin Valley and entering the Sierra Nevada. As co-driver I was able to make a few bird observations en route.

Most noticable were raptors, and of these Turkey Vulture and Rough-legged Hawk were most prominent, without about 20 individuals of each seen, in groups of up to 3. A male Northern Harrier quartering fields near the junction of HW59 and HW152E, at Red Top south of Merced, was dive-bombed by a probable Swainson's Hawk. Three or four further Swainson's Hawks were suspected, but ID not confirmed from the speeding car. A couple of American Kestrels were noted and a group of 3 Common Ravens just east of St Luis Reservoir at the HW5 crossing.

In the San Jouquin Valley proper we logged all of Snowy Egret, Great White Egret and Great Blue Heron in flight. Brief Killdeer and Wilson's Phalarope were also seen, with another of the former on the shore of St Luis Reservoir. A group of gulls on a small island at the north-east side of the reservoir were mainly scruffy immature Ring-billed Gulls, but also a presumed third-summer California Gull - with clean beak like an adult but a few dark marks still in tail band, a very pleasing lifer.

Passerines were tricky from the car, but a couple of Northern Mockingbirds were seen on Plainsburg Road in Merced, along with Black-billed Magpie, and an American Robin in Los Banos. Tree Swallows included a group of about 50 near Los Banos. Cliff Swallow was also seen and Violet-green Swallow tentatively identified (wooded valley off HW140 about 10 miles SW of Cathey's Valley). A probable White-headed Woodpecker flew over the road near Cathey's Valley.

In Yosemite Park itself Steller's Jays were prominent, chasing tourist scraps at the main visitor center and elsewhere, and White-headed Woodpeckers were at the campsite. Northern Flicker and Brown-headed Cowbird were also seen. Over 10 White-throated Swifts were seen at various places in the rocky gorges of the Sierra Nevada.

On the way back, 2 Loggerhead Shrikes were seen on the wires over waste ground at Evergreen Commons shopping complex off HW101 in San Jose.

On other days we observed various other species in San Jose, including Great White and Snowy Egrets overhead, Nuttall's Woodpecker (single on a roadside tree by traffic lights on Monterey Highway), Black-chinned* and Anna's Hummingbirds at Santa Palmia and finally a large owl sp. over HW85, near Los Gatos Creek Park, at 22:00hrs on 6/7, which was most likely a Great Horned Owl.

Linked page

* = image formerly on linked page.

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