Sunday, May 01, 2005

1st May - Chasing murrelets

Today started with a 40 minute sea watch from Point Pinos which turned up 68 Sooty Shearwaters and 150 Guillemots (or Common Murres). More exciting though were 3 Ancient Murrelets which flew past close inshore. I hadn’t expected to see this species as they are normally fairly scarce, especially as late as this, but it’s been a good spring for them and apparently others had been seen this weekend. They almost made up for dipping the one on Lundy 14 years ago!

The birders I had met yesterday told me about Robert’s Lake in Seaside and this site duly turned up the first year Snow Goose, apparently a late wild bird despite accompanying feral Canada Geese. There was also a colony of Heermann’s Gulls here – although I had seen a few youngsters down the coast these were my first adults. I also found my most northerly Great-tailed Grackles and my third and final Violet-green Swallow.

Offshore at Seaside there was a huge raft of 600 Pacific Divers (Pacific Loons to Americans). I was told that this was the only site for Red-necked Grebes in central California and sure enough 5 were easily found. Also offshore were 3 White-winged Scoters (now even the BOU has split these from our Velvet Scoter!) and 60 Surf Scoters and 10 Pigeon Guillemots. On the beach 45 Sanderlings provided a familiar touch.

Next stop was Elkhorn Slough. Here Moon Glow Dairy provided the only Cattle Egret away from the south-east and looking across the slough I could see the only 3 Black Brants of the trip. The reserve itself provided 12 American White Pelicans, Spotted Sandpiper, Barn Owl and a variety of other birds. The highlight here was a White-winged Kite which gave spectacular views as it hunted over the reserve.

There had been no sign of the recently present Marbled Murrelets at Seaside so I had been advised to check for them anywhere between Santa Cruz and San Francisco. First stop at Santa Cruz provided 500 Western Grebes but no Murrelets.

We then lost quite a lot of time getting lost round Santa Cruz before finding ourselves by accident at Neary Lagoon. Here a flock of 15-20 peculiar passerines flying over initially evaded identification, but fortunately some of them flew back, this time calling, and it dawned on me that they were Cedar Waxwings. A couple of Pine Siskins showed better. A Greater White-fronted Goose had paired up with a horrible hybrid domestic thingy so I don’t know where it had come from, wild or not. In fact I’m not convinced it wasn’t a hybrid itself.

Heading on northwards we stopped at Pigeon Point for another try with the Murrelets. Looking straight into the sun it was hard to pick out anything but two small blobs looked very interesting. They were swimming rapidly towards me until it became clear that they were indeed Marbled Murrelets and at that point the rear bird jumped up and mounted the front bird. It was all over in a second, but he looked pretty pleased with himself.

Driving through San Francisco on the way to Point Reyes was remarkably easy so we paused for a few minutes at the Golden Gate Bridge to do the tourist thing. Fortunately Vitty had been here before so there was no pressure to visit the city itself. The road up to Point Reyes was incredibly slow and windy but we stopped and had a quick look at Bolinas Lagoon. Here there were loads of ducks including 136 Greater Scaup, 1 Lesser Scaup, 3 Buffleheads and 9 American Wigeons.

We didn’t have time to have a proper look round Five Brooks but a quick shifty produced Swainson’s Thrush, 5 Wood Ducks and 3 Purple Finches amongst other things. Arriving at our cottage in Inverness we discovered that Caspian Terns and Greater Scaup were feeding just off the end of our own private ‘pier’ while Black-crowned Night Herons flew over.



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