Getting our ducks in a row with Michael – 9th December 2013

Any day you can see a Golden Eagle soaring, some Tundra Swans on promenade and the the flash of a passing Snipe can’t be all bad. Shollenberger Park or Marsh was named after a park’s chief, Richard Shollenberger. It was established in 1995 and described in the Wiki entry as “one of the last wetlands of its kind in the country . . . a bird watching paradise”.
Michael refreshed some of our bird watching memories as we walked along the trails, could we have forgotten so much? The weather was chilly so the sunshine felt good on our faces, the rest being amply covered. Michael mentioned that r-e-a-l-l-y this wasn’t that cold compared to so many places on earth (like -135.8 in East Antarctica) but it was our cold.

Ducks in “tuck” mode still mostly with both feet on the ground. Why do they stand on one leg?

Michael can be heard on KQED FM’s Perspective series. This one describes his arrival in California on Oct. 7, 1977.

Memorial benches were along the path, this one with a whimsical outhouse theme distracted us.

Along our trail is the Pt. Reyes Bird Observatory which changed its name to Point Blue last June. They retain their original bird monitoring and banding site on the Bolinas Mesa – perhaps a future hike.

The Petaluma Wetlands on our left as we headed out to Ellis Creek Water Recycling Facility. A docent for Shollenberger passed by and recommended the Ellis Creek Trail and we were not disappointed. “Docent Bob” pointed out that the treatment ponds were in the shape of the endangered Salt Marsh Harvest Mouse.

Great Egret, Ardea alba, on the hunt was not perturbed as we walked by on the path. It is the symbol of the National Audubon Society founded in 1905 with roots going back to 1886 to save from extinction these splendid birds and the many others hunted for their plumes. Viewed full size you can see that the market for hats and plumes was enormous.

Michael mentioned that as the prey is swallowed the meal is obvious going down the long neck. Martin Griffin Preserve of Audubon Canyon Ranch near Bolinas and Stinson Beach has a classic heron and egret heronry.

In flight the long neck is tucked in and the legs are extended.

Some ice on the rocks. Meanwhile back in New Hampshire:

Bundled up and keeping our heads down while the Monolithic Black Obelisk from 2001 looms from the rear.

Going up to one of the treatment ponds that was so rich with water birds. Definitely getting to be Husky weather.

Michael and Karen Stern brought spotting scopes which greatly enhanced the viewing detail.

Pied-billed Grebe making his solitary path across the pond (Podilymbus podiceps)

Two stately Wall Streeters, Gadwalls – Anas strepera with the female in front and the male in breeding plumage on top.

We saw some birds skitter through this remnant of a thicket undeterred by the ice. Was one a Yellow Warbler? There was a wren (Winter wren?, Marsh Wren? and near here we had our flash in the pan sighting of the Wilson’s (Common) Snipe. Michael said that one of his friends called him one night to ask if the snipe was fictional, did it actually exist?

Approaching a hawk sitting in the sun, resting on a bench like the hikers. This is the moment that you hope he’ll rest a bit more. He watched our approach with interest but continued to give us a splendid sighting.

Perhaps a Light juvenile (1st year) but compare your Sibley and see what you think.
Michael said that the Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) has tremendous variations of light and color. Experienced birders are not so quick now to make the identification. The dark bar on the front/leading edge of the underside of the wing is visible in flight and diagnostic.

Our picnic spot out of the wind and catching a bit of sunshine.

Looks to be a Juvenile White-crowned sparrow amid the blooming (female) Coyote Bush. Our first lesson of the day had to do with the conical beaks of sparrows.
There was a Northern Harrier (Circus cyaneus) resting on the ground at a distance. We’d some in flight earlier making their low level hunting runs and then enjoyed a pair of female Northern Harriers overhead.
Here is an impressive study of the Northern Harrier on the PRBO/Point Blue website:

Black-necked Stilt casting her shadow, what remarkable long red legs.

As we were finishing our hike, we’d heard that a Great Horned Owl was making a rare appearance in some willows on the Loop Trail. He was absolutely still but his profile was quite clear in the scope. I took half a dozen shots and got some great willow leaves.

It’s a wrap as we check out the map for future walks.

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