Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Hidden Redwood Shores

From Redwood Shores - Nob Hill Foods

We learned a lot on a recent Audubon Society tour. It was scheduled to show off the nature walk at the new Redwood Shores Public Library. No one had cued the birds, so the group of about 30 set out for Radio Road, where reliable birding is to be found any hour of the day or year.
Putting better names to birds was intriguing. Veteran birdwatchers have their "tells" as Las Vegas croupiers read their gamblers -- they can read a raptor at 200 feet or ID a duck halfway across the pond.
From Audubon Tour of Redwood Shores

We also got tips on some additional spots for birdwatching. Davit Lane is a narrow strip of parkland bordering one of Redwood Shores' many lagoons. The afternoon we were there, one white swan was floating elegantly among the boat moorings.
Another wildlife hotspot is the pond behind Nob Hill Foods. You can see it from the Bay Trail, which has an access point at the end of Twin Dolphin Drive -- follow the signs to the Child Care Center. Lovely benches and landscaping overlook the slough. A short walk along the Bay Trail brings you to the pond. It's also viewable from behind Nob Hill Foods. The road is technically private but not posted as such, and there's parking once you pass the loading trucks.

Behind The Sound Wall

From Sound Wall Birds

Some corner of our peripheral vision is now dedicated to scanning for potential avian life. Even amid the hustle of Bayshore 101. With the great expanses of salt flats returning to their natural state, there's even more opportunity for spotting birds en route.
Egrets -- large, white, given to standing motionless while stalking fish -- turn up often, and in the most surprising places. Apparently even cement-lined culverts and roadside drainage offer sustenance. One Foster City egret spent much of last winter in a bank of iceplant, so far as we could tell. Another is often in the culvert at the Third Street on-ramp.
From Sound Wall Birds

On the border of Foster City and Redwood Shores, there's one patch of marsh dotted with grandfathered billboards. James spotted one egret darting in between two billboards that stand back to back, and wondered if it had found a great spot to nest. It looked like there was more bird action in some water but our view was blocked by the sound wall.
Last week I figured out how to get to the other side of the sound wall. The viewing spot is in Foster City, at Port Royal and Rock Harbor Lane. There's parking and Bay Train Access. A few steps let you look over the marsh and resident egrets. Around the corner, a drainage culvert empties into an untidy shallow basin that nevertheless attracts various birds. I suspect it's protected and out of the wind. The cormorants must think the yellow water control device was put out just for their sunning pleasure, like the electric transmission towers. Not a drop dead must-see birding destination, but a spot to find wildlife if you are in the neighborhood.
Want to find this location? Click on Sound Wall Birds above -- it has a Google map showing where the photos were taken.

Woodbridge Road Revisited

From Woodbridge Road, Lodi

Can't stay away from those Sandhill Cranes.
We were in Sacramento, headed home. The roads were open; the weather clear. Which route to take?
Of course we head back to Lodi, to see what has changed in the two weeks since we were there for the Sandhill Crane Festival. (The cranes are in residence throughout the winter.)

As we suspected, more fields had been flooded. Swans were starting to settle in. The cranes were still grazing in the fields, keeping a respectful distance from the lookie-loo birders on the road. It's drive-by birding only here. Some gates had been added at spots where we'd seen people walking into the fields, sending the cranes into the air. (Cranes don't panic, but they seem to maintain their distance.)

Midday is quiet time. The official Isenberg Preserve was nearly devoid of waterfowl, with only a few cranes. We did spot hundreds of cranes in one field of alfalfa. They are clearly organized, with one crane as lookout while the others graze; they take turns at this.

But prime time here is morning and evening, when the great flocks of cranes and swans and geese and ducks fly out and in. Pace yourself accordingly.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Central Valley: Staten Island

From Staten Island Birds

This Staten Island is not to be confused with the borough of the City of New York. Among California birders, it's short for birding nirvana. For drive-by birders, it's an E Ticket Ride.

The Staten Island in the Sacramento Delta is a huge agricultural tract where the Nature Conservancy has brokered yet another win-win situation with farmers, ecologists, and hunters.(Pheasant season opened Nov. 1 and the pheasant were keeping a low profile.)

It's perfect for birding by automobile. There's only one road open to the public -- numerous small signs warn spectators to stay out of the fields. The road is a good 6-10 feet above the surrounding fields; whether it was built as a levee, or whether topsoil blew away over the decades, I can't say. Either way, it makes an excellent viewing platform. And on a Monday morning, there were more working tractors and pickups than birdwatchers.

From Staten Island Birds

In early November, some rice fields had been harvested and flooded. Other fields were green with alfalfa. Word was out among the critters. Sandhill cranes, ducks, egrets, swans, a great blue heron, even some of the shorebirds we see locally: killdeer, dunlin, avocet. Raptors perched on the telephone poles lining the road.

The weather was gorgeous: clear windless California fall, with Mount Diablo looming in the background. Little avian psychodramas played out. Two Sandhill cranes had a territorial hissy fight with a lesser egret, who finally retreated to the opposite side of a gully. A swarm of little birds pursued a regal, snowy-breasted hawk, who returned to the power pole; then the pursuit resumed.

Sounds obscure, but it's worth the trip. Especially on a clear, serene day when the winding Delta roads beckon and the lazy river shimmers in the sun. From I-5 just north of Lodi, take the exit to Thornton and Walnut Grove. Head west on the Walnut Grove Road, and turn south onto Staten Island Road. The road becomes gravel but is well-maintained, OK for city vehicles that don't mind some dust. No food, benches, or restrooms. Just hundreds of wild birds making themselves at home, with a bit of encouragement, in farmland.

For a unique dining experience, venture on to the tiny weathered town of Locke, built by Chinese immigrants 100 years ago. "Al the Wop's" -- a venerable local establishment with dollar bills stuck to the bar ceiling -- offers hearty food and, surprisingly, fine wines from local winemakers.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Central Valley: Woodbridge Road

From Sandhill Cranes I

We are in drive-by birding heaven.
Just off busy I-5 and its truck stops, past the pile of cow manure under tarps and tires, is birding central: the Isenberg Nature Preserve featuring Sandhill Cranes.
But don't rush to the nature preserve. The fields along the road and the ditch beside it are full of birds too. Sandhill cranes dance in the pastures. Egrets perch along the ditch. An entire field of rice stubble is covered with white-fronted geese, blending in with the ground.
From Sandhill Cranes I

The preserve is set up with a viewing platform so you look over the marshland. (Bring your own chair, no bathrooms, good parking lot.) People behind fences, birds free. Yea!