Sunday, September 14, 2014

Birding at Point Reyes

My last trip to Point Reyes was good but I felt a little incomplete after the trip since I did not get to do any birding at the most important birding spot near SFO. We saw lot of raptors during our last visit but hardly any birding done. So when I saw this meetup happening from the Santa Clara Audobon group for Birding at Point Reyes I was very happy. The group conduct bird outings every weekend just the way we have it in Bangalore by the bngbirds group.

Thanks to Vivek and Conrad for providing me the ride. Annete for arranging the meetup and Peter our group leader who helped us a great deal in identifying the birds and explaining the significance of Point Reyes for birds and so many other things about birds. And thanks to the group for the amazing bird walk. And Vivek was kind enough to answer some of the questions I had during the walk.

Below is the website to Santa Clara Audobon group. They list the field trips well in advance for everyone to plan early. A great way to start birding the bay area is by registering to this group.

I Woke up early in the morning at 5AM and Conrad was kind enough to pick me up from my apartment. We were supposed to meet Vivek at Cuppertino. We had planned to do car pool in Vivek's car. Annette met us at Cuppertino and on the way Bobbi and Shiela joined us.

Once we started driving through the hills we started seeing good number of raptors, and most of them perched right on poles and wires by the road side. Since we were already late we did not make any stops on the way. The only stop we did was when we saw a group of California Quails. And one of them was sitting on the name board and watching over for the predators. I had seen lot of photos of this bird and read some sightings from the Alum rock park area but never got a chance to see till now. Infact this is my first sighting from the quail species. They are seen frequently around Bangalore but I have never seen any. And this California quail was beautiful with its beautiful plume or crest which is a group of six feathers. Great way to start the day.

California Quail
We were supposed to meet the birding group by 9 but we were about 30 min late. The group had already started birding and had just visited the pond behind the parking lot.

Immediately after we got down, one of the members from the group pointed to a bird flying away and mentioning as Osprey. Again a new bird but this time I just could not see any of the features on the bird since it appeared completely dark against the bright sky and it was flying away. Chanced missed to see an Osprey.

Also saw lot of White Crowned Sparrows in the parking lot. Infact we could see these Sparrows all through out the day.

From Drakes beach we went to our first birding spot which looked as if it was tailor made for bird watchers. We could see and hear the elephant seals from here. Number of Brown Pelicans diving into the water to catch fish. And some of the group members were able to identify some pelagic bird species from the scope.

White Crowned Sparrow(Male)

There were lot of pine trees along the trail and Peter was mentioning that the birds migrating south use these trees as a stop over before they start again. Since it is close to the shore its very accessible for the birds migrating over sea. So we were able to see some of the flycatchers and the  yellow warblers here. We also saw Barn swallow and Black Phoebe here.

Barn Swallow

Yellow Warbler


And when we were looking for the birds up in the pine trees one of the group member mentioned about the sighting of an Owl :-) I was so excited after hearing that. I have been waiting to see an owl species and its been a while for me. So when I arrived at the tree which was in a private property we tried to find it using our binoculars and camera, but I just couldn't see him. It was very well camouflaged in the tree. Infact there were 2 in the tree and I could not spot either of them. Thankfully Hans from the group had a spotting scope. He fixed his scope on the bird and we were able to see the owls after that. It was Great Horned Owl. Amazing species and seeing 2 of them at the same time was an amazing experience. It's a large owl. We did see it in flight too when he flew towards the near by tree.

2 Great Horned Owls in the corners

Great Horned Owl

White Crowned Sparrow(Female)

We decided to finish our lunch and headed towards the Light house where there was a report of Oriole and a Red start sighting.

On the way we met a lady who had just completed her birding in the area and she mentioned about the sighting of a barn owl, red start and the oriole. There was already some excitement in the group. Immediately after reaching the pine trees we started to scan the trees for any sight of birds but we were unlucky and as we went ahead and just before the next group of pine trees we could see some birders looking into the trees and discussing a bird. On closer inspection we could see a Barn Owl hidden among the branches of the tree. I don't know how anyone was able to spot him, he was so very well camouflaged. And then in the near by bushes we saw the Oriole and the yellow warbler. The Oriole was not of the size of our Eurasiaon Oriole we see in Bangalore. It was small and looked a little different. But the beak does look a lot like our Orioles.

Red Tailed Kite

Barn Owl

Look at my beautiful tail(Oriole)

Then on the way Hans spotted a bird perched on one of the rocks close by. It was the Peregrine Falcon.sitting right at the eyelevel but at a fair distance. I could not complain anything since I was seeing a Peregrine in its moment of peace and neatly perched. He was very calm and waiting for something to happen. This bird was more black colored than the one I saw back in Nandi Hills in Bangalore. We spent good time with him before he decided to take off.

Peregrine Falcon

Upper Wing Pattern of a Peregrine

Then on our way back we saw this beautiful bird fly close by. It was a Red Tailed Hawk identified by its black colored Patagial bar. We had seen umpteen number of Red Tailed hawks since morning. The entire Point Reyes is an heaven for raptors.

Red Tailed Kite
We also saw lot of ravens in this place. Infact the presence of crows was very very less. All you could see were these ravens which are huge in size compared to our crows and have a very distinguishable sound compared to our crows.

Raven eating strawberry
We also saw Red Breasted Grosbeak and Black Headed Grosbeak female. I heard the presence of Red Breasted Grosbeak is rare here. I had seen Male Black Headed Gros beak multiple times during my visit to Alum rock park area. This bird is very common here. The male of Red Breasted Grosbeak is very brightly colored. We did not get a chance to look at him here.

We also saw few song sparrows and a lone Acorn Woodpecker. Mike from the group mentioned an interesting point about the Acorn woodpeckers. I hear they live in colonies and the leader of the colony is usually a female(Matriach) which is exactly the same that I kept observing in my visits to Alum Rock Park area.

Black Headed Grosbeak(Female)

Song Sparrow

Red Breasted Grosbeak

Red Breasted Grosbeak

After an eventful walk we came back to our starting point and finished our walk with the last sightings of Elegant Terns and a Northern Harrier. This is the only Harrier species seen here in US.

Northern Harrier
And right during our return journey saw this beautiful American Kestrel sitting on this pole right beside the road. I took one photograph from behind the glass and then just before everyone could slide their windows down he flew away. Very distinctive from the Kestrels(common and lesser) which visit India during the winter months.

American Kestrel

List of Bird seen(To be updated later).

1. Red Tailed Hawk
2. American Kestrel
3. Northern Harrier
4. Turkey Vulture
5. Barn Owl
6. Great Horned Owl.
7. White Crowned Sparrow
8. Song Sparrow
9. Savannah Sparrow
10. Crow
11. Raven
12. Black bird
13. Red Breasted Grosbeak
14. Black Headed Grosbeak
15. Acorn Woodpecker
16. Mourning Dove
17. Rock Pigeon
18. Yellow Warbler
19. Black Pheobe
20. Barn Swallow
21. Flycatcher *
22. Oriole *
23. Peregrine Falcon
24. California Quail
25. Elegant Tern
26. Heermann's Gull
27. Brown Pelicans
28. Cormorants
29. Lesser Goldfinch
30. Western Bluebird
31. Canadian Geese

Friday, September 5, 2014

Point Reyes, California

Since we had a long weekend we decided to head towards one of the popular tourist destination near by, Point Reyes. This is about 30 miles north to San Francisco and about 85 miles from the place I stay. I had seen lot of photos from this place on net and heard that it would be a very good spot to visit if the weather is clear. The forecast for the weekend was Sunny hence decided to check out the place.

Few of my friends suggested to start a little late. It gets very cold at this place and during foggy conditions the visibility is less than 5 feet. So we(Myself, Ramesh and Phani) started at about 9:30, it was about 2.5 hrs drive. The drive after SFO towards Point Reyes is very good. We pass through mountains and country side. You could see all these big ranches by the hill side. We also drive through some wooded forest where I saw some good camping places.

Point Reyes is famous for its light house which is right on the cliff. The scenery from here is just breath taking. We were lucky that there was not fog and we had clear blue sky.

Phani and Ramesh

View of Lighthouse from top

40,000 miles a year. How crazy is that?

Phani with his Jalsa phose :-)

We saw lot of raptors throughout the day. Since its kind of open grasslands everywhere it's good place to find raptors. I also saw american kestrel for the first time:-) Point Reyes is a very good birding destination. A total of 430+ bird species have been seen here which almost 50% of the bird species seen in US. I wanted to do lot of birding but din't get much chance. This is when I miss my Bangalore group. I was happy to see any birds that I came across during the trip. There was also a birding walk planned on the same day by audobon society but I did not have any ride hence had to cancel that walk.

This below hawk looks like a Red tailed hawk. First point to mark it under buteo is short tail, broad wings and very good at soaring. I saw this fellow soaring in the sky effortlessly. Infact when I took this photos he was almost stand still. Atleast the kestrel hover but this fellow was literally at the same place without even flapping his wings once. Based on wing and tail size along with the way it was flying I thought it should be from Buteo. The secondaries are prominently bulgingly rounded and the visibility of dark bordered patagial bar. These are some of identification marks for a Red Tailed Hawk.

Found all this info in below Youtube video which explains these hawks in a very detailed way. A very good video to learn the identification of raptors.

Red Tailed Hawk
There are also 'n' number of beaches here. We just visited Drakes beach and Limantour beach.

We got down at Drakes beach and immediately I saw this beautiful Sparrow with its beautiful yellow beak flying around in the parking area. I saw two of them. It was White Crowned Sparrow. There are lot of different sparrow species here and as with our pipits its a little difficult to identify these species here. It's good to see all these different kind of birds. I also saw lot of these Heerman's Gulls around.

White Crowned Sparrow


Heermann's Gull

We started our way towards the Limantour beach and on the way saw these group of deer's and I saw this huge male walking around. How I wish he had given that head turn :-)

Then we went to Limantour beach. Here I was very lucky to see Least Sandpiper and Semipalmated Plovers. It was their roosting spot. I could see only one Least Sandpiper in a group of  around 20 Semipalmated plovers.

Least Sandpiper

Semipalmated Plover

Came back home at around 8:30. It was a great trip. But its a place which I would definitely want to visit again but this time just for birding and plan it during winter :-)