Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Peaceable Kingdom: Redwood Shores

Shorebirds love sewer ponds.
This is our most amusing bit of birding wisdom to date. Our interest in sewer ponds began with a visit earlier this spring to Los Gallinos in Marin, a noted spot for birding. Looking at maps of the Bay Trail, we found several promising spots closer to us. The closest treatment plant was at the tip of Redwood Shores.

I think of Redwood Shores as the "Peaceable Kingdom" after the noted painting. Great swarms of dowitchers, whimbrels, willets, and other shorebirds circle in and out. Ducks and geese feed and paddle about with their young. Stilts and avocets poke about. Lately we've seen terns and their adolescent ternlets, perfect miniatures. Dozens of egrets scattered like marshmallows on the far banks, among the sleepy, sullen night herons who look like they could use a cuppa joe.

For the best birding in Redwood Shores, head out to the end of Redwood Shores Parkway, and turn right on Radio Road. (There's a former radio station at the far end.) No benches. No bathrooms (perhaps at the nearby dog park, must check on next visit). But you can enjoy the spectacle without leaving your car.

If you wish to stretch your legs, it's a short walk uphill to the Bay Trail, closed at the point to protect clapper rail and salt marsh habitat. There's still an expansive view of the bay and various bird life along the estuary, such as cormorants perched on the electric transmission towers.

Redwood Shores is not our secret spot. On a recent afternoon, I found several Sequoia Audubon members armed with serious scopes, taking in the flurry of avian activity. The shorebirds are coming back from wherever they've been. Like 1950s socialites, many of our birds head up to the Sierra, Canada, even Alaska for the nesting season.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Place With No Name: Foster City Shell Beach

Our favorite birding spot has no official name. It's on the Foster City Bay Area Trail, just below the Highway 92 San Mateo Bridge. "Shell Beach" is a good guess, as it's composed of mounds of crushed oyster shells that seem to wash up endlessly from the bay floor. To get there, look for the two posts rising above the substantial levee. Find a legal parking place -- be careful when school is in session. Walk up the incline, and you'll find benches and picnic tables placed at convenient distances. And, throughout the winter months, amazing flights of birds.

There's plenty of room to walk, ride, skate, or walk your dog, if you prefer. The birds are cool with it all. It's fun to watch them change plumage over the seasons. In winter they are pretty uniformly gray -- then they break out into colors, like the plovers here, who showed up all decked out in April.

By June, the mud flats are largely deserted. I'm happy to find one lone cattle egret reflected in the outgoing tide. Where have the birds gone? Like summering socialites, they've gone to Tahoe, Mono Lake, Canada, even Alaska. They'll be back in the fall, en route to Mexico for the winter.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Dine-By Birding

Thursday night was unusually balmy, so we headed to Foster City where several restaurants front on one of the lagoons. We dined outdoors at Portofino Grill and refrained from feeding some begging ducks. Something else -- a cross between a seagull and a swallow -- occasionally flitted in the air.

Afterward we walked down to the cul-de-sac behind Chevy's, where we could see a bevy of ducks around the landing. In the air, we spotted the something else we'd glimpsed earlier. Graceful, white, forked tail, black skullcap -- it hovered like an oversized hummingbird, wings beating, until it spotted something in the murky water. Then it dove sharply, emerging with a tiny fish a moment later.

After consulting the bird guides, we think it was a Forster's tern, which is fitting for Foster (no r) City. One breathtaking bird to watch. I keep thinking of Gerard Manley Hopkins "Windhover" :
My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird -- the achieve of; the mastery of the thing!