Monday, 1 October 2012

California, September 2012 - San Francisco

My lack of posting recently has not been due to a lack of activity, due to the recent appalling weather here in the UK, but due to the fact that I have been on my travels again...this time to California, USA. As with all my holidays, the aim was to have a relaxing break with my wife, but like any self-respecting birder, some birding had to be involved....well in fact this trip had been planned around several locations which I hoped would provide some great birding, and be relaxing at the same time. Our trip commenced in San Francisco, before heading north to Bodega Bay, east to Yosemite and then south-west to Monterey. The next few posts will diarise our trip, so that birders who wish to travel to California may find some of my experiences useful.

Heermann's Gull

Our trip began with a three day city break in San Francisco, so I wasn't expecting to be doing much birding. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find some decent birding to be had along the shoreline immediately south of the Golden Gate Bridge. On reaching the bay shore, along The Embarcadero Road we were greeted by large numbers of Heermann's and Western Gulls, scavenging for scraps among the hoards of shoppers and sightseers! 

Western Gull

Walking east there are several wharfs that support good numbers of gulls and other sea birds such as Brandt's and Double-crested Cormorants and Brown Pelicans. There are several trips running to Alcatraz daily and it was our plan was to walk along the bay shore and then take a trip out to Alcatraz, unfortunately all the trips were fully booked, until the following Tuesday, when we would have left the city. We continued east along the bay found another company offering trips around Alcatraz (without landing), but also going to the Golden Gate and Bay bridges. As it turned out, for me this trip proved to be the better option, as we were soon sailing among flocks of Elegant and Caspian Terns, Brown Pelicans, Double-crested and Brandt's Cormorants and Common Murres (Guillemots in the UK). As we approached the Golden Gate Bridge three Sooty Shearwaters circled the boat before landing, but the most interesting thing for me was the number of Harbour Porpoises, I must have seen at least 20 in the waters beneath the bridge. My experiences with this species usually involve seeing them rapidly swimming away as they try to escape the on coming ship that I am on, these individuals seemed oblivious to the busy shipping lanes and tourist boats, and just went about their business. The boat trip leaves from Pier 39 and as it exits the dock passes a colony of California Sea Lions that have taken up residence on one of the piers. They are good value, but are very noisy and do whiff a bit!!

California Sea Lions 

Further east you come to the East Beach and Cissy Park, where a small saline lagoon  and an area of sandy beach is located. Western and Heermann's Gulls were again common, and the small lagoon produced the first waders of the trip, Long-billed Curlew (1), Willet (1), Marbled Godwit (2), Long-billed Dowitcher (3), Western Sandpiper (1), Killdeer (6) and Semi-palmated Plover (3) and a single Snowy Egret. 

Long-billed Curlew

A Townsend's Warbler was present in the bushes and Brewer's Blackbirds were commonplace. Looking out over the water hundreds of Elegant Terns were feeding along with two Caspian Terns, Brown Pelicans and a cracking drake Surf Scoter, whilst watching the scoter I got some more cracking views of close in shore Harbour Porpoises. 

Drake Surf Scoter
I also found a Red-throated Loon huddled on a section of beach, looking pretty ill so I didn't disturb it. North of the bridge we ventured down to an area of scrub and a small harbour, a Spotted Sandpiper was present on the waters edge and Turkey Vultures drifted overhead. 

Turkey Vulture
The scrub seemed fairly quiet but did produce the first Western Scrub Jays and White-crowned Sparrows of the trip. Returning back over the bridge I noticed the frame of an old wooden pier that seemed to be covered with terns all of which were Elegant Terns, there were hundreds of them. 

Hundreds of Elegant terns

Elegant Terns
This was a new species for me so it was great to get such good views, of both adults and juveniles, and look at the plumage variations of each and difference in the length and coloration of their bills. Some of the juvenile birds still had yellow legs, but this was quite patchy and dark was beginning to come through on all of them.

Elegant Tern

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