more Bay birding
One advantage of being a travelling birder is the opportunity to explore new areas that offer different habitats. So as the adage goes, "When in Rome..." or in this case, in and around the San Francisco bay area.
One morning I was treated to a bush full of berries and the birds that eat them. Pine Siskins "mewed" from the tree tops, while "Oregon" (Dark-eyed) Juncos sang bubbling whisper songs. Lincoln's Sparrows fed along the side of a wet ditch, watching the Thrushes and other sparrows feed on the berries. Among these berry-eaters were "Sooty" Fox Sparrows and the superficially similar Hermit Thrush, White-crowned & Golden-crowned Sparrows, Song Sparrows, Purple Finches, and perhaps one of my favorite song birds, the Varied Thrush. Unfortunately, the Varieds were not singing their full buzzy songs, but it was still wonderful just seeing these birds again.
female Varied Thrush - Leica digiscoped image
Further along, Winter Wrens called and sang from the wet wooded slopes, and Purple Finches "dip-dipped" over head. Chestnut-backed Chickadees added squeaky phrases and Towhees uttered breathy "siiiiiip" notes from the hearts of the bushes. The woodland birds were great of course, but I did have work to do this day so I had to bide my time and the nearby waters of Tamales Bay that were also chock full of birds.
An amazing spectacle was taking place out in the bay. Apparently there was a Herring run occurring (or so I was told by one local), and following the unseen school of fish was a huge number and variety of fish-eating critters. The most obvious were the gulls and cormorants, and one could very easily observe the differences between the Pelagic, Brandt's, and Double-crested Cormorants in the group. In between these seals and (I believe) sea lions bobbed like corks in between dives for food. It was fascinating to track the movements of the fish as evident by this black line that "marched" across the water, while gulls wheeled and dove overhead. Also nearby were Pacific Loons, Horned & Western Grebes, and all types of waterfowl which I appreciated in turn as I panned my scope across the expanse of water.
adult Ring-billed Gulls offer a nice comparison with the adult California Gull (left)
The last group of birds I looked at were the gulls. I have to admit that this is a group of birds I least enjoy looking through compared to the others. As such, it is also a group that I need more opportunities for study and the group assembled here offered a fantastic opportunity. On the nearby docks and railings sat as many as 60 Thayer's Gulls, with a handful of Ring-billed and California Gulls mixed in here and there. Dark-backed Western Gulls were well represented as were Glaucous-winged and various hybrid combinations keeping things interesting. It was wonderful for a birder from Florida to be able to absorb the images of the various plumage and structural differences between these west coast gulls. It was certainly a unique experience for me to be scouring through the Thayer's Gulls looking for a Herring Gull rather than the reverse. When I finally assigned myself to looking, it was a fantastic learning experience, but as I said there was work so I had to bring the lesson to an end and head back back to Mare Island for the vendor expo.