Contra Costa county big day-155 species

Logan Kahle

Hi all,
Yesterday, April 21, four San Francisco birders (Jack Dumbacher, David
and Margaret Mindell, and myself) did a big day in Contra Costa county.
The rough route started in the Berkeley Hills for the dawn chorus, next
we headed onto the coast, went to the north part of the county, headed
to the Mount Diablo and then finally the Central Valley. Also, though we
had a great day, none of us had a lot of experience with this county, so
we relied mainly on the resources we had (namely Steve Glover's
excellent guide to birding Contra Costa county).

We organized this big day as part of the Golden Gate Audubon's annual
bird-a-thon campaign to raise funds for bird conservation. If you are
interested in contributing to this effort, you can do so by pledging at:

Anyway, here's a summery:
We started at around 5:00AM in Tilden Park. We listened at many stops
for owls, but we only managed to find Great Horned Owls. We found 6 or 7
individuals. Also, while owling, we heard some early-riser California
Towhees, Black-headed Grosbeaks and Pacific-slope Flycatchers. Before
sunrise, we settled ourselves at Inspiration Point. We had thought this
place would be a great place to start, as we thought we might find
MacGillivray's Warbler, Chipping Sparrow, Lazuli Bunting and Grasshopper
Sparrow. Unfortunately, we missed all of those. In fact, of those the
only one we spotted later in the day was the MacGillvray's Warbler. We
had to settle with some of the more common birds. Wrentits, California
Quail, Red-breasted Nuthatch and Purple Finches were all singing, and we
saw Great Blue Heron, Cedar Waxwing, Band-tailed Pigeon, Black-headed
Grosbeak, Glaucous-winged Gull, Golden-crowned Sparrow (which was
shockingly common). I was surprised to find after the big day ended that
these Wrentits and Purple Finches were the only ones we heard all day!

We started to head northwest, and stopped along the road a few times. At
one of our first stops, we found a fairly large number of Brown
Creepers. We also saw two Pygmy Nuthatches and a Downy Woodpecker. At
our next stop, we found an Orange-crowned Warbler in a eucalyptus and
heard the distinctive song of the Olive-sided Flycatcher. We then headed
towards Jewel Lake, and spotted a few Wild Turkeys en route. At Jewel
Lake, we had a Green Heron fly into some trees and a calling Swainson's

We then zipped off to Point Isabel, where we found many birds including
Pelagic Cormorant, Eared Grebe, Ruddy Duck, Common Loon in the water and
Dunlin, Whimberel, Least, Western and Spotted Sandpipers, Long-billed
Curlew, Short-billed Dowitcher and American Avocet on the mudflats. Near
the parking lot, we had a few Brown-headed Cowbirds. I also heard a
flyover American Pipit and we found a dead Red-necked Phalarope near the
parking lot.

We then headed to Miller/Knox Regional Shoreline, where we added
Bufflehead and Willit. Also, we found Yellow-rumped Warbler, a species
we only found in a couple of locations. We continued onto Point
Richmond. As I have learned, Northern Rough-winged Swallows love to nest
under freeway overpasses, so when we approached on of those overpasses I
told my team to be on the lookout for that species. Sure enough, a few
were flying around. We saw Northern Rough-winged Swallows at four
different overpasses over the course of the day, but nowhere else. At
the the regional shoreline, we added Long-billed Dowitcher and, as our
102nd species, White-crowned Sparrow. As it was already 10:30 and we
were starting to leave appropriate habitat, I was starting to get a
little worried.

We then darted off to Martinez Regional Shoreline. Here on the eastern
side of the shoreline in the channel immediately to the west the
non-marshy pond, we heard the distinctive call of the Black Rail. In and
over the pond, we added Northern Harrier and Gadwall. The many singing
Marsh Wrens and Common Yellowthroats were also added to the list. We
then headed for Mitchell Canyon. En route, we saw a Golden Eagle soaring
with some Turkey Vultures. David also saw a Belted Kingfisher fly over
the road.

At Mitchell Canyon, we were not disappointed. Despite only making it
there by 1:00, we still added quite a few birds, such as Blue-gray
Gnatcatcher, Hammond's Flycatcher, Cassin's Vireo, Warbling Vireo,
Western Tanager, Calliope Hummingbird, Black-chinned Hummingbird (two!),
Bullock's Oriole, White-breasted Nuthatch, Western Bluebird. We also ran
into a birding group who said there was a California Thrasher and a
Nashville Warbler much farther down the road. Unfortunately, they were
too far for us to be able to get to them.

We then continued onto Black Diamond Mines. On Somersville Road, we had
the best birding in the area. We pulled out at every opportunity, and
had great success with the local specialties. First, we found a narrow
strip of chaparral on a hillside. Seeing this was ideal habitat for one
of our targets, we pulled over. Less than a minuet after, the target,
Rufous-crowned Sparrow, started singing. Then, the bird flew on top of
one of the shrubs and posed for about 10 seconds. Soon after, we saw two
goldfinches fly into a tree, calling. There turned out to be Lawrence's
Goldfinches, a major target. There were also three Bullock's Orioles
here. At the next pullout, a distinctive chip lead me to a
MacGillivray's Warbler. Then, David spotted a whitish owl fly behind
some rocks. After we went around a bend, we found a beautiful Barn Owl
flying around. Next, we located a few more targets, namely Western
Kingbird, Ash-throated Flycatcher and Swainson's Hawk. David found a
Red-tailed Hawk nest on a cliff, which we were able to study until we
were content. Next, we had a Great Horned Owl fly over. It is remarkable
to think that we got two different owls at 3:30PM and that we got more
owl species in 15 minutes here in the afternoon than in our entire
owling efforts at Tilden earlier that morning. At the Mines itself, the
birding was slow. We added calling California Thrasher and Northern
Flicker, but nothing else during the one and a quarter hour period. On
our way out, though, we had two Lark Sparrows and a flyover White-tailed
Kite at Somersville Road.

We then headed to the Central Valley. Our first stop was Big Break
Regional Park. This was very rewarding. First, we added Eurasian
Collared Dove. We then heard the lovely "gulping" song of the American
Bittern, a sound I have been waiting to hear for years. Soon after, we
added Savannah Sparrow, Common Moorhen, and Pied-billed Grebe. A
selasphorus hummingbird was probably a Rufous given location (a bird we
missed on the day), but we couldn't confirm due to the fact that it
wasn't an adult male. There was also a Green Heron that flew by.

We then went to Bethel Island. On our way there, we added a Cooper's
Hawk perched on a telephone wire. While driving up to the island, I saw
a female Yellow-headed Blackbird among a blackbird flock. We then went
deeper into the island. We soon heard our first Ring-necked Pheasant. We
then saw one, and once we'd left, our count for the island was eight. As
we proceeded, I heard a Blue Grosbeak from a thicket. Then, as we
continued along the road, we spotted a few geese. We soon saw these were
Greater White-fronted Geese, a species I assumed would be long gone this
late in the season. Jack then spotted a Greater Yellowlegs foraging in a
nearby pond. After seeing that, I saw another shorebird on the opposite
side of the pond. After intensive scrutiny we all agreed this was a
SOLITARY SANDPIPER. When the bird flew, it showed the distinctive dark
center of the tail with dark bars, confirming its identification. A
photo of the sandpiper can be seen here:

After we had our fair share of looks at that, we continued on farther
into the island. Here I spotted a flying Hooded Oriole. As we reached
the end of the island, we saw three Green-winged Teal flying away. As we
were leaving the island, we saw three American White Pelicans flying
lazily over.

Next we headed to the Holland Tract. En Route, though, was a stop to
look for Yellow-billed Magpies. As we arrived at the location, Delta
road, David spotted a Magpie on a power pole. We all enjoyed great
views. On our way to the Holland Tract, we saw a dark morph Swainson's
Hawk perched in a tree. Given that this was at 7:20, it was probably
there to roost.

When we arrived at the Holland Tract, we were impressed by the massive
number of coots. Over the river, we spotted three flocks of Cattle
Egrets consisting of eight, about five, and about 10. After the sun set,
two Black-crowned Night-Herons flew along the river. In the fields, we
found more Greater White-fronted Geese and many American Wigeon, and
there was just enough light to pick out one adult male EURASIAN WIGEON.
On our way back, we were too exhausted to try for more of the common owls.

In the end, we saw 155 species, including the following highlights:
Eurasian Wigeon
Solitary Sandpiper
Yellow-headed Blackbird
Cattle Egret
Black Rail
Golden Eagle
MacGillivray's Warbler
6 Green Herons
Swainson's Thrush

Worst misses:
Northern Shoveler
Loggerhead Shrike-Several suspects near Bethel Island, but none were
Black-necked Stilt
Rufous Hummingbird
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Pintail
Cinnamon Teal
Lesser Scaup
Black Turnstone
Ruddy Turnstone
Horned Lark
Rock Wren
Black-throated Gray Warbler
Hermit Thrush
Western Screech-Owl
Northern Saw-Whet Owl
Northern Pygmy Owl
Lazuli Bunting
Chipping Sparrow
Grasshopper Sparrow

So, given the fact that we did no scouting, and pretty much just went on
Steve Glover's excellent website, I think our total of 155 is pretty good.

Enjoy the peak season while it lasts!
Good birding,
Logan Kahle
San Francisco

Here's a list of everything we saw today with approximate (or exact)

Greater White-fronted Goose 200
Canada Goose 35
Gadwall 4
Eurasian Wigeon 1
American Wigeon 601
Mallard 69
Green-winged Teal 3
Greater Scaup 15
Surf Scoter 2
Bufflehead 2
Ruddy Duck 3
California Quail 5
Ring-necked Pheasant 9
Wild Turkey 8
Common Loon 3
Pied-billed Grebe 1
Eared Grebe 2
Western Grebe 52
Clark's Grebe 10
Double-crested Cormorant 13
Pelagic Cormorant 1
American White Pelican 3
Brown Pelican 2
American Bittern 1
Great Blue Heron 2
Great Egret 4
Snowy Egret 1

Cattle Egret 23

Green Heron 3

Black-crowned Night-Heron 2

Turkey Vulture 1

Osprey 1

White-tailed Kite 2

Cooper's Hawk 1

Red-shouldered Hawk 1

Swainson's Hawk 2

Red-tailed Hawk 20

Golden Eagle 1

American Kestrel 5

Black Rail 1

Virginia Rail 1

Common Gallinule 31

American Coot 225

Killdeer 4

Black Oystercatcher 4

American Avocet 6

Spotted Sandpiper 6

Solitary Sandpiper 1

Greater Yellowlegs 1

Willet 1

Whimbrel 3

Long-billed Curlew 1

Marbled Godwit 10

Sanderling 30

Western Sandpiper 50

Least Sandpiper 215

Dunlin 100

Short-billed Dowitcher 40

Long-billed Dowitcher 15

Wilson's Snipe 2

Ring-billed Gull 10

Western Gull 40

California Gull 7

Glaucous-winged Gull 1

Caspian Tern 4

Forster's Tern 3

Rock Pigeon 55

Band-tailed Pigeon 5

Eurasian Collared-Dove 3

Mourning Dove 24

Barn Owl 1

Great Horned Owl 5

White-throated Swift 4

Black-chinned Hummingbird 2

Anna's Hummingbird 23

Allen's Hummingbird 6

Rufous/Allen's Hummingbird 1

Calliope Hummingbird 1

Belted Kingfisher 1

Acorn Woodpecker 4

Nuttall's Woodpecker 3

Downy Woodpecker 2

Northern Flicker 1

Olive-sided Flycatcher 1

Hammond's Flycatcher 4

Pacific-slope Flycatcher 7

Black Phoebe 7

Ash-throated Flycatcher 2

Western Kingbird 8

Cassin's Vireo 2

Hutton's Vireo 3

Warbling Vireo 1

Steller's Jay 3

Western Scrub-Jay 16

Yellow-billed Magpie 1

American Crow 50

Common Raven 24

Northern Rough-winged Swallow 5

Tree Swallow 16

Violet-green Swallow 8

Barn Swallow 10

Cliff Swallow 200

Chestnut-backed Chickadee 8

Oak Titmouse 12

Bushtit 13

Red-breasted Nuthatch 3

White-breasted Nuthatch 6

Pygmy Nuthatch 2

Brown Creeper 7

Bewick's Wren 8

House Wren 11

Marsh Wren 30

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 1

Ruby-crowned Kinglet 1

Wrentit 1

Western Bluebird 4

Swainson's Thrush 1

American Robin 25

Northern Mockingbird 23

California Thrasher 1

European Starling 51

American Pipit 1

Cedar Waxwing 50

Orange-crowned Warbler 6

MacGillivray's Warbler 1

Common Yellowthroat 6

Yellow-rumped Warbler 11

Townsend's Warbler 1

Wilson's Warbler 10

Spotted Towhee 8

Rufous-crowned Sparrow 9

California Towhee 13

Lark Sparrow 2

Savannah Sparrow 2

Song Sparrow 23

Lincoln's Sparrow 1

White-crowned Sparrow 1

Golden-crowned Sparrow 13

Dark-eyed Junco 5

Western Tanager 2

Black-headed Grosbeak 3

Blue Grosbeak 1

Red-winged Blackbird 61

Western Meadowlark 12

Yellow-headed Blackbird 1

Brewer's Blackbird 50

Brown-headed Cowbird 10

Hooded Oriole 1

Bullock's Oriole 8

Purple Finch 3

House Finch 50

Lesser Goldfinch 44

Lawrence's Goldfinch 22

American Goldfinch 12

House Sparrow 2

Join to automatically receive all group messages.