All this fall, bar-tailed godwits were being seen around the San Francisco Bay area. The first one was up near Point Reyes and the second down near San Jose. I decided not to chase either of them even though it would have been a life bird. However, when a third bird showed up near Oakland I finally broke down and gave chase. Three in one year must be some kind of sign, right? The godwit was being seen with a flock of marbled godwits in a small park near the Oakland shipyards. Not the most glamorous spot, but it seemed reasonably close. I did not get started early enough, and traffic was horrendous. Urban bird chasing is not my cup of tea. Since it took so long, I hung out with the godwit and other shorebirds for quite a while. The bar-tailed godwit stood out quite spectacularly against its marbled cousins.
As evening came, the tide started going out and the light got good. Shorebirds started showing up as if by magic on the now exposed mudflats. None were terribly concerned with my presence. I scavenged up a bucket from the shoreline, plunked it down in the mud and shot away to my hearts content. The park turned out to be a fantastic place to watch shorebirds up close and was (mostly) worth the traffic (eBird checklist).
The bird of the hour contemplating the surf.
A marbled godwit investigates some seaweed.
Willets were mixed in with the godwit flock.
In my opinions, American avocets in winter dress are underappreciated. I love the subtle blues and grays in this shot.
Semipalmated plover showed up as the tide went out. Eventually there were about 20 running around the mud.
Black-bellied plover also showed up with the receding tide. They mostly stayed farther out…except this one.
A final shot of the bar-tailed godwit. See his fancy barred tail!
I like shorebirds. Sadly, my year has been lacking in shorebirds. My year list has a marsh sandpiper and a bar-tailed godwit (those stories later), but was missing a bunch of regular California migrants. Happily a few pectoral sandpipers were spotted at the Cosumnes River Preserve. Pectorals are one of the later sandpipers to migrate through California, and, in my area aren’t especially common. I ran down after work and managed to find all five that had been report, plus a bunch of other cool shorebirds (eBird checklist). Unfortunately the light wasn’t that great and the photos were less than stellar. Luckily a few of the pectorals stuck around until the weekend. Sacramento’s first rain in months was forecast and the overcast conditions were perfect for shorebird photography. I spent a pleasant morning at the Preserve getting only slightly damp (eBird checklist).
Black-necked Stilt. I like the colors in this photo.
This snipe refused to move from his spot.
Since I’ve lived in California, my birding years have started off with a pair of Christmas Bird Counts (CBC) in the Kern River Valley. I love starting the year off birding, and these two are some great counts. This year, I again did the Kelso Valley Road triangle on the Canebrake count. There are two little neighborhoods along Highway 178 that provide some nice trees for woodpeckers and such.
The valley is mostly farmed with a pastures and cattle. There is a lot of barbed wire which provides some nice sparrow perches. White-crowned sparrows are usually the most abundant species, but this year I didn’t get any great photos of them. This savannah sparrow posed nicely while I was tallying some sightings so he’ll have to do. This one looks particularly dapper in his fresh plumage. It is a good sparrow.
Farther south down the valley the ag lands give way to nice stands of Joshua trees and some open saltbush areas. A bit of searching through the Joshua trees on the east side usually turns up a family of cactus wrens, especially where the cholla cactus are thickets. This year they were a bit harder to find, but in the end posed nicely for some photos.
A bonus flock of mountain bluebirds was roaming around the saltbush flats around an unused cattle corral. They only seem to show up in the Kern River Valley in the winter. During the summer months, the are breeding in the open sagebrush steppe of Oregon and Washington.
On the way down, I stopped for a bit of birding in Visalia. An extremely rare (for California) Couch’s kingbird had been seen through December at a park in town. It was not still there when I showed up. I did manage some snazzy photos of a few western bluebirds that were foraging next to the swings. All in all, not a bad start to 2016.