Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Miscellaneous: Jupiter and the moon

Look out your hotel window, look out your door, look out your sunroof. See the moon and the bright planet in conjunction with it tonight--Jupiter much closer to the Earth than it usually is. Tonight is the full moon. Jupiter is in opposition, meaning that the sun, the earth, and Jupiter are aligned, with the sun "behind" Earth and Jupiter 180 degrees away, which makes it very bright and easy to view all night long. Beautiful. I will get out the telescope tonight. An unusual alignment. If I knew anything about astrology, I could pretend it meant something.

Miscellaneous: Bird-brained

Looking back over my most recent posts I had to laugh at myself. Reading them you'd get the erroneous impression that bird watching has taken over my life. It's just something I've been doing of late because I've had the opportunity (with the family away until Monday) and because it keeps my mind off other things--not that I don't enjoy it. It's been an odd reliving of a small segment of my childhood. My father used to drag us on bird watching outings as kids in New York. We didn't enjoy it much at the time, but the experiences of youth can stick with you in the most remarkable ways. Busy on Thursday evening. Friday I'll be going into the city with my mother to see what's on at SF MOMA, from around 3:00 or so, and then have dinner somewhere nice--probably at Greens. Saturday I have nothing planned, but will go to the Santa Rosa farmers market in the morning, probably between 10:30 and 11:30--always on the lookout for good tomatoes and smoked fish. Later in the day will attend a wine event at Wellington Vineyards, off of Dunbar Road. Nothing planned on Sunday either.

Birds I'm Watching: Shollenberger Park, Petaluma (August 5, 2009)

I made my first visit to Shollenberger Park, in Petaluma, today. "Park" is a misnomer. It's just a marshy area and ponds surrounded by a dyke with a path, but clearly an excellent place for birding. Even at this time of year, with comparatively little water, I saw Black-necked Stilts, Avocets, White Pelicans, Coots, Ring-billed Gulls, Heermann's Gull, Snowy Egrets, Great Egrets, a Black Phoebe, a Common Tern*, Mute Swans, and Greater Yellowlegs--not to mention at least two species of smaller sandpiper-like bird I couldn't identify. This last (the Greater Yellowlegs) was a first sighting for me as an adult. At first I took these to be Willets, but a more experienced birder wandering by set me straight.

Having seen them both now at close range, they are very easy to distinguish, but from a distance they can look similar. The key is the yellow legs (the Willet has bluish-grey legs) and the plumage on the  Yellowlegs is a little darker and more distinctly patterned, especially the wings. If you can see the birds fly, they are easy to tell apart because of the black and white on the underwings of the Willet. This is a place that will be great to visit over and over again. I can see that after one visit--and it's only 20 miles from home. I wonder what other birds--migrants perhaps, an occasional visitor from the east--are in the area? There are some in particular I'd very much like to see.

[UPDATE: Went back again two days later. Saw the same birds, but also a Bonaparte's Gull, a first sighting for me, and Killdeer and Mockingbirds--the latter eating blackberries. So that's about 15 species I've seen at Shollenberger Park in my first two visits, a mere 8% of the 195 that are said to be present there at some time or another. I look forward to visiting again later in the year.]

*Reading this ten years later, as a more experienced birder in this area, I note that the bird I took to be a Common Tern very likely was some other type of tern, as Common Tern is fairly unusual here.   

Birds I'm Watching: Bodega Bay

Drove briefly out to Bodega Bay yesterday, not having really planned to do so, but I had nothing better to do. Didn't see a lot new, but did get a clear look at a group of grebes and saw the difference between the Clark's grebe and the Western grebe well enough that I now can say I've seen both, so I add the Clark's grebe to my life list. The latter is a bit paler, especially on its back, and the black on the head stays above the eye. The black on the head of the Western grebe surrounds the eye. In my book Birds of Sonoma County California (Bolander and Parmeter), there is no historical sighting of this bird in the county in August. The book was published in 2000 (revised edition). It probably has been sighted, but, if not, there you go. I'm 100% certain about this one.

Out at Bodega Head I saw a group of birds that I believe were Pacific loons in their winter plumage. Nothing else makes any sense. So, tentatively, I add the Pacific loon to my life list. I also saw what I think were mew gulls, but I'm not certain. Otherwise, I saw the usual on a drive in Sonoma County that includes the ocean: Double-crested cormorants, Western gulls, turkey vultures, scrub jays, Canada geese, black oyster catchers, willets, sandpipers, great egrets, brown pelicans, white pelicans, marbled godwits, and common terns.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Birds I'm Watching: Point Bonita Lighthouse

I went out to Point Bonita Lighthouse on Sunday. It's near Sausalito--that horrid little city with the predatory parking enforcers. Happily, I didn't have to go anywhere near Sausalito itself. I didn't see much interesting in the way of birds, but it was a pleasant drive to a scenic spot. The view of the Bay with the Golden Gate Bridge in the distance is wonderful. If you go, expect to spend at least an hour for the visit. The small suspension bridge out to the point is allowed to carry only two people at once, so there's a long wait while visitors alternate in pairs, coming and going.

I saw a lot of cormorants. Frustratingly, I couldn't get close enough to tell which kind they were. The vestiges of past dwellings near the light house were interesting--especially the overlapping, lichen-covered layers of plaster, brick, and native rock (upper photo). When I was out at Point Reyes not long ago, I photographed the distinctive bright orange lichen that favors these wild spots around San Francisco Bay (lower photo). I also noticed strata of natural conglomerate exposed there. More found art.
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