Sunday, July 31, 2011
The commonest gull in the area (in fact the only species, besides visiting Heerman's), Westerns are bold, brutish and almost like an intermediate Lesser-Black back / Great Black-back. Unlike their Glaucous-winged counterparts further up the west coast, they appear 'pure', but I wouldn't be surprised if someone who has more local knowledge puts me right on that.
Saturday, July 30, 2011
After leaving Canada on the morning of the 10th, we Greyhounded south back into the States via Seattle, where we refuelled with our dear friend Ms. Erin West; then the drive out of Washington (for the last time this trip) and to Portland, Oregon for a whirlwind visit.
Dark-eyed Junco (male, Oregon ssp.)
From there, southbound again, out of Oregon and into California and San Francisco - where we'd the best part of a week to kick back and take it easy (much needed after the ground covered over preceding days and weeks).
Thanks to another generous honeymoon benefactor (bless you Dave), we'd the run of a spacious apartment in the heart of the city, just south of the Golden Gate bridge; better still, it was just a few blocks north of Golden Gate park, and a short bus ride to Land's End and the beach. So inbetween enjoying the more urban elements of SF, Oakland and Berkeley, there was plenty of opportunity for some laid-back birding.
Not a sign one would expect in a British urban park
Golden Gate Park, while understandably heavily used by the local populace, is a large, semi-wild space hosting rich and varied habitats, from sandy-soiled pine scrub on its western edge (right on the Pacific) grading into lush, deciduous and mixed woodland criss-crossed by roads and trails, to man-made lakes and scrub-covered wasteland.
During our mid-summer visit, there was much to entertain in several long and enjoyable sessions; during falls in migration periods, it must be mesmerising. Even in the warm summer sunshine there were plenty of undisturbed corners to explore, and plenty of birds, many of which were new.
Passerine lifers included numerous Allen's Hummingbirds, roving groups of Pygmy Nuthatches, Black Phoebes, Califonia Towhees, tame Steller's Jays, Wrentits, Pacific Wrens and Lesser Goldfinches; other passerines included Wilson's Warblers, Song Sparrows, Brewer's Blackbirds, Northern Mockingbirds, Bushtits, Dark-eyed Juncos, Chestnut-backed Chickadees, Cliff, Tree, Violet-green, Northern Rough-winged and Barn Swallows, Band-tailed Pigeons and more.
Wrentit - a Pacific coast speciality and a pleasing find in urban SF
Non-passerines included close-up Red-shouldered and Red-tailed Hawks, an even closer family of Great Horned Owls, Great Blue Herons, Great Egrets, and the requisite uber-common Ravens.
Land's End and the Sutro Baths area, with Seal Rocks just beyond, occupy the north-western coast of SF and provide a semi-wild, ruined and slightly surreal landscape before the coast drops towards sea level and the endless sandy beach begins.
Land's End / Sutro Baths, in differing conditions (with Heerman's and Western Gulls bathing in the ruined 19th public baths)
opportunist Brewer's Blackbirds
Plenty of pleasingly unfamiliar species including the first Western Scrub-Jays, Hudsonian Whimbrels, Western Gulls and Heerman's Gulls; Brown Pelicans, Pelagic and Double-crested Cormorants occupied the coastline, where flocks of Brewer's Blackbirds roved the tideline and picnic spots. A flock of Elegant Terns were another excellent surprise, nestled between Heerman's Gulls and unappreciative sun-worshippers on the burning sand.
Plenty of opportunity to use the camera to full effect also - hence, a series of photographic posts to follow....
Friday, July 29, 2011
Lots more action on our final full day on Vancouver Island included pit-stops at many beautiful (and a few absurd) places along the east coast of the island. Birding however was pretty much confined to a couple of hours in the evening at the comically (but bell-ringingly) named Buttertubs Marsh*, a (sub)urban reserve with a good mix of habitats fringing a freshwater wetland.
Violet-green Swallows, at nest hole and with mouthful of damselflies
Marsh Wren and American Mink
Northern Flicker (red-shafted ssp.)
Pied-billed Grebe on the nest
and from the ferry crossing the following morning - way, way out in the sound, several high-flying Rufous Hummingbirds migrating back onto mainland North America
(*the interpretation board reminded me that 'Buttertubs' is a Yorkshire expression, from when farmers used potholes to keep butter cool en route to market.)
Thanks again to the wonderful Dave and Susan for a great few days on the island.