Thursday, September 24, 2009

Bye-Bye, Maldives?

Spending time down by the waterfront, wherever it may be, makes me aware of how fragile our connection is between land and sea. In the past two years we've spent hours on the shores of San Francisco Bay, marveling at the life cyles that unfold on its acres of mudflats, shoreline and swamps.

The land that is "waiting for development" and "doing nothing" in economic terms is in fact serving as a vital process in the age-old cycle of life. The "swamp land" that 19th-century farmers could not wait to drain is a vital part of the ecology that makes San Francisco Bay a special place.

The cycles of migrating birds, beating their tiny wings from Argentina to Alaska, link us to cycles around the globe. Melting glaciers are not a local problem. The Maldive Islands, at sea level, are at risk of disappearing completely.

We do what we can. One thing I can do is add to my blog. They are doing a great job of focusing people on one manageable goal, reducing carbon dioxode emissions to 350 parts per million. At this point scientists calculate that we can still dodge the bullet, as it were. So the widget is up there. Check it out. Together we can.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Bye-Bye, Birdies

We were dragging yesterday, after several days of unusual heat and activities, so we went down to the sewer ponds to check on our feathered friends.

The wind was blowing up quite a gale, which is no problem for the birds, but kept us close to the car. No clambering up the bank to see what was visible from the Bay Trail. Some of our residents were still there: a cluster of terns on the islands, a dozen egrets on the shore, various coveys of ducks, and shorebirds lined up en masse on the sandbar. Stilts and avocets poked about.

Others were missing. No black skimmers, with their big orange beaks and breathtaking flight patterns. The omnipresent Canada "street geese" as James calls them, were not to be seen. (We have wondered if there were unadvertised goose specials in any local restaurants.)

We went roaming about Redwood Shores to see what else we could find. In back of Nob Hill, the dozens of white pelicans we'd seen in recent weeks were nowhere to be seen. The "street geese" were still roaming around Oracle.

Behind the new library, there was some birding activity in the mudflats, with the receding tide. A few whimbrels probing, a couple of egrets, and one stately heron crouched half-shaded in a clump of grass.

The birds come and go on their own schedule. The moon and the sun and the wind must speak their own language. We simply marvel at them while they are here, and look forward to their return.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Pelican Glee

Ploffskin, Pluffskin, Pelican jee,
We think no Birds so happy as we!
Plumpskin, Ploshkin, Pelican jill,
We think so then, and we thought so still!

It was a calm and lovely evening in Redwood Shores. We hung out by the sewer ponds for a while, hoping for one of the great fly-overs, when the tide turns and the shorebirds lift off en masse for the receding mudflats on the other side of the levee. The birds had their own ideas, and took off in dribs and drabs. No dramatic photos.

We checked in at the pond behind the Nob Hill Foods strip mall. It often yields surprises, and we were in luck. A dozen pelicans were nestled in on the island for the night, like so many white pluffy pillows, with a scattering of black cormorants for contrast.

We like pelicans. They are big, dramatic visitors. They may look funny to us, but they probably have as good an opinion of themselves as Edward Lear imagined in his nonsense song. I'm pleased to think we have so many of the same birds Lear must have seen touring Egypt nearly 200 years ago:

Herons and Gulls, and Cormorants black,
Cranes, and Flamingos with scarlet back,
Swans and Dilberry Ducks in crowds.
Thousands of Birds in wondrous flight!

Check on all but the flamingos and Dilberry ducks.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Of Terns and Skimmers

From Terns and Skimmers

Going to visit "our birds" in their local setting has been a consolation in times of stress. No matter what is going on in our personal world, the avian denizens keep on going in their lives as they have since time immemorial. We lose ourselves checking in, seeing what changes have transpired from week to week.
From Terns and Skimmers

Sometimes you get lucky. A local rarity -- black skimmers -- turned up at the Redwood Shores treatment ponds a few weeks ago. They came last year for several weeks, then moved on. In repose they are comical, cartoon-like birds, with extra-long bodies and great orange beaks, almost like a crow masquerading as a toucan. In flight they are breathtakingly gorgeous.

Another bird that's beautiful to watch in flight is the Forster's tern. This year they are back in droves. They have completely taken over two small islands in the north pond, presumably nesting in a place safe from predators. The non-nesting terns float in the air, making a great racket.
From Terns and Skimmers

I got very lucky watching one tern who decided to hang out in the south pond with the other birds. One week she was sitting in the lone clump of grass, presumably squaking away amidst the ducks and a few black skimmers who appeared to be sunbathing, wings spread out. Two weeks later, she was squaking at a small bird, all fluffy and golden in the evening light. In the photos, it's clearly a chick. Presumably a tern.

You never know what you are going to see, and you might miss it if you don't pay attention, and carry good binoculars.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Spring Twilight at the Sewer Ponds

From Birds090502

If we had not spent the previous evening at a wonderful cabaret, I'd think we were off our game, heading for the Redwood Shores sewer ponds at twilight on a Saturday night. But we were in luck.

The egrets -- there had been 80 of them clustered on the shore a few weeks ago -- had taken to the trees and were flying back and forth, when they weren't dotted like cotton balls on the dark foliage.
From Birds090502

There was the usual line of shorebirds, chilling out in the pond while the tide withdrew to reveal more grubs.
From Birds090502

Up on the levee Bay Trail, goslings were taking their first outings under the watchful parental eyes. One could almost overlook the goose turds littering the trail. Are the geese driving out the endangered clapper rails? Or, by littering the trail with poop, have they discouraged the joggers and brought the clapper rails some solitude?
From Birds090502

Back at the pond, some pintail ducks were in a great territorial altercation. Don't tell Eckhart Tolle, who has a great inspirational passage about how ducks, when they are upset, flap their wings and get over it. These ducks were so not getting over it, for about 15 minutes.

From Birds090502

A flotilla of ducklings were scudding along with momma and poppa, breaking away and returning in a dance.
From Birds090502

A very large jackrabbit with long ears appeared on the shore.
From Birds090502

We checked out the farther pond. A young night heron and a mature one were both perched on the near shore. Further out on an islet, terns were hovering in that helicopter-like way they do.

We were there for 90 minutes. The little real-life dramas are better than the movies. At least when the evenings are mild in May.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Lovey Ducks on Valentine's Day

I love watching birds go about their lives. These photos were taken on Valentine's Day, when the birds allegedly choose their mates, at least in medieval mythology. These cinnamon teals were on a small hassock in the pond, the two males swimming around the female. She must have given a signal that she had chosen her mate, as one male took off and the other clambered up on the hassock beside her. They touched bills and linked their necks, almost making a heart outline. Then she took off while he perched there looking quite satisfied with himself. I may be projecting human emotions onto critters, but it looked like something social of that nature was going on. (Click on the image, and you'll be taken to Picassa where you will see the rest of the photos.)

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Local Birding Resources

The weather was mild on Monday. We were down in the South Bay, and went roving towards Saratoga. Not sure what we'd find open on a Monday holiday.

We were in luck for a great booking resource, the Book-Go-Round, a used bookstore benefiting the Saratoga Library. They had a used copy of The Birders Handbook, a volume recommended by the ranger at Baylands in Palo Alto. (It may still be there since we already had a copy. Just a sample of what's to be found there, at greatly under market prices.)

We were aiming for the Picchetti Winery, one of those wonderful secret places tucked around the bustling Bay Area, where you suddenly step back in time. It's an old family operation from the 1890s, set in verdant foothills, with wild peacocks roaming the grounds. And the wine's good; the sort of clean, meant-to-go-with-food quality that makes me think honest winemakers have been at work here. Not just gaming the Wine Spectator's numbering system. What's a local drinkavore?

Taking a wrong turn--we were feeling somewhat random---we wound up on McClellan Avenue, rolling into the foothills. As we passed some tidy red farm buildings, a sign caught my eye. "Turn around, Dear! The Audubon Store is open today too!"

Formally known as The Nature Shop, the store is operated by SCVAS, the Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society. It's not for birders only. There's a grand selection of relevant books and other items in a compact space. And a newly planted garden of native plants at the doorstep.

We found a second deck of cards featuring local birds. We'd found a deck with shorebirds at the Redwood Trading Post in Redwood City; the Nature Shop had the inland birds deck too. The art work on the cards is excellent. We admit to using them as flashcards rather than playing cards. We've had fun sorting the birds by size as we attempt to refine our birding expertise.

When we saw the joker in the shorebird deck was the Night Heron, we knew kindred spirits were at work. Night Herons, at least when we see them in the afternoon, often have the look of someone who craves a cuppa joe and a cigarette to face another day. (The Turkey Vulture is the joker in the inland deck.)

McClellan Ranch is quite an operation on its own. Lots of trails and UC Extension gardens. Nicely signed. Few birds to report for the afternoon -- the winery peacocks were in seclusion molting. Some largish white predator was hovering in midair above 280 in the twilight: perhaps an owl? 280 may be the world's most beautiful freeway, as it proudly signs itself, but it's no place to slow down for drive-by birding.

McClellan Ranch Park
22221 McClellan Road
What is now an 18-acre natural preserve park used to be a horse ranch during the 1930s and 40s. The site houses a nature museum and community garden. Also, preserved on the property are the original ranch house, milk barn livestock barn, a replica of the Baer's Blacksmith Shop that was originally located at De Anza and Stevens Creek Boulevards, and the old water tower from the Parish Ranch which is now the site of Memorial Park.