Wednesday 27 June 2012

Palo Alto Baylands on foot, San Francisco, June 2012.

I wanted to see if it was possible to visit the Palo Alto Baylands by public transport and found that it was, providing that you wear comfortable shoes and are prepared to walk the miles. Caltrain leaves from SanFrancisco station on 4th St. and takes an hour to reach California Avenue station (Google Earth ref; 37 25 45N 122 08 31W ). Walk east through the leafy suburbs along North California Ave, turn right onto Embarcadero and 45 minutes later you will be in sight of the Lucy Evans Nature Center (Google Earth ref; 37 27 35N 122 06 23W ). A dozen or so birds along the way included Chestnut-backed Chickadee, California Towhee, Western Scrub Jay, Western Bluebird and Brown-headed Cowbird.

I took the path from the duckpond around the northern slough to take advantage of the light. Black-necked Stilts and American Avocets were very obvious here and fed from the large expanses of mud at low tide. predicted a high tide at 10.30, but I was beginning to doubt this as the tide was so low at 07.30.

Out on the boardwalk, the water was still flowing out towards the bay. I caught a fleeting glimpse of a Clapper Rail in ‘Rail Alley’ as it darted up a side ditch. I wondered if my sudden appearance had startled it and hoped that if I sat quietly, it might come back out into the main ditch. After a while, it looked as if the rail had moved on, so I took a quick stroll to the far end of the boardwalk where a platform looks out over the bay. When I returned, it was to find tracks leading back out from the side ditch and unhurried Clapper Rail footprints on the raised island of mud in the middle of the ditch. It would have passed, in perfect light, within 8 feet, offering a fantasy photo opportunity to anyone with enough patience just to sit still for a few more minutes.

The thought haunted me for the rest of the day until I returned to the hotel and saw the results of my photographic efforts for this trip. I would probably have bollixed up the rail pictures and that would have been even more frustrating than missing it altogether. My camera and lens are in for repair this week and I can’t imagine how I ever coped without image stabilisation before.
Song Sparrows were very common in the salt marsh and their distinctive song proved to be the soundtrack for the day.

As well as the avocets and stilts, there were a few other waders such as Willet, Marbled Godwit and Long-billed Curlew, but all the peeps and the dowitchers were gone in this second week of June.
The tide did actually come in as predicted and quickly began to fill the channels inland, but strangely, one of the ditches was still draining towards the bay. Rays had come in on the tide and were feeding in the channel close to Bixby Park.
I had planned to cross the park towards Charleston Slough, but the way was blocked by the earth moving contractors, so I had to retrace my steps back out onto East Bayshore Drive.

The first bird that I saw on entering the approach path to Charleston Slough came as quite a shock. A red-wattled face with a blonde crest and a spangled body brought to mind a plate from my India and Southeast Asia fieldguide that illustrates Pheasants and Tragopans. Once home, consultation of said fieldguide gave me Khalij Pheasant, more commonly seen in the Himalayas. I was looking forward to entering this one onto ebird, but my initial shock at finding the bird was compounded when I found that it was listed on my software for California. That rather spoiled my fun with eBird, I do so look forward to hearing from them.

eBird has passed the details on to the local yahoo group which has caused some interest, so a few extra pictures have been posted here.

I swapped news of my Tragopan/Khalij Pheasant, with Irene, who in turn pointed out a juvenile Black-crowned Night Heron. It was being mobbed by Barn Swallows that did not want it near their young. Suddenly, it darted out its bill and plucked a young swallow from the air, killed it and gulped it down. I was nearly as shocked as the young swallow who was wondering where his sibling had gone.

A pair of American Avocets were behaving like first time parents in trying to protect their tiny chicks who were feeding out in the open. Every time that a gull flew over, one or both of the parents would take to the air and chase it away. Having sited their nest so close to a coastal gull roost, I wondered how long they would be able to keep it up.

Forster’s Terns, Snowy Egrets and a Surf Scoter were feeding on the leisure lake and the Black Skimmers seemed to prefer the island here to the one on which I usually see them in Charleston Slough.

I had walked as far as Shoreline at Mountain View in the hope of finding Burrowing Owls, but had had no luck in this respect. Instead I watched a Red-tailed Hawk gliding across the steep slope, then suddenly diving down to catch a Mallard from the shoreline. The catch was possibly too heavy for the hawk and it only flew a very short distance before landing. The duck was obviously very keen to escape and fought bravely, almost dragging the hawk into the water in the struggle, but finally she went quiet. The hawk seemed satisfied that the duck was dead and changed its grip in order to start feeding, but the duck had fooled it and with a last massive effort escaped back onto the water, leaving the hawk frustrated.

The duck received a round of applause from me for her cleverness, but we were both shocked a moment later when the red-tail rose into the air on the brisk breeze and dropped onto her ducklings which were cowering by the shore. The hawk grabbed one in each set of talons and flew off with the much softer option.

The route home took me along North Shoreline Boulevard towards Mountain View Caltrain Station. In a stroke of pure luck, I stopped beneath a palm tree to repack all my stuff before the hike back to the train line. I noticed pellets and a skull scattered around the base of the tree and looked up to find a Barn Owl looking down.

Bird seen; 59
Canada Goose 80, Gadwall 6, Mallard 200, Cinnamon Teal 2, Surf Scoter 2, Ruddy Duck 3, Khalij Pheasant 1, Double-crested Cormorant 20, American White Pelican 20, Brown Pelican 2, Great Blue Heron 1, Great Egret 2, Snowy Egret 8, Black-crowned Night Heron 3, Red-tailed Hawk 5, Clapper Rail 1, Common Gallinule 2, American Coot 4, Killdeer 3, Black-necked Stilt 20, American Avocet 70, Willet 6, Long-billed Curlew 9, Marbled Godwit 180, Ring-billed Gull 8, California Gull 250, Herring Gull 15, Forster’s Tern 80, Black Skimmer 2, Mourning Dove 4, Barn Owl 1, Anna’s Hummingbird 2, Black Phoebe 10, Say’s Phoebe 1, Western Scrub-jay 2, American Crow 15, Common Raven 2, Northern Rough-winged Swallow 8, Tree Swallow 6, Barn Swallow 100, Cliff Swallow 150, Chest-nut-backed Chickadee 4, Bushtit 5, Bewick’s Wren 5, Marsh Wren 3, Western Bluebird 1, American Robin 4, Northern Mockingbird 8, European Starling 25, California Towhee 12, Savannah Sparrow 2, Song Sparrow 40, Dark-eyed Junco 6, Red-winged Blackbird 10, Brown-headed Cowbird 35, House Finch 35, Lesser Goldfinch 2, American Goldfinch 6, House Sparrow 5.

From California Avenue Caltrain Station to Lucy Evans Nature Centre  is a 3 mile walk. To return, the walk from Shoreline at Mountain View, to Mountain View Caltrain Station is about 2.25 miles. Wandering about generally, added up to a total of about 14 miles today.  

Other posts for Palo Alto Baylands can be found at the links below;

Visit the dedicated USA and Canada Page for more posts from the area including, Mountain Roads and Golden Gate Park.

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