Sunol Trip report

Philip Georgakakos

Hi East Bay Birders,

Derek Heins, Alex Henry and I thoroughly enjoyed birding Sunol on this fine early spring day. Migrant numbers were strong with clear skies, warm temperatures, and little wind.

We started the day with some nocturnal birding at Welch Creek Rd. at 6am and were rewarded with at least 4 pygmy owls, a couple of Great Horned Owls, a Western-screech Owl, and a Common Poorwil. All were heard vocalizing. We parked around (37.532049, -121.830474), and walked the road for a while, where we heard all these birds as dawn broke. You can park on Welch Creek rd on weekdays without a permit, and it's accessible before 8am, when the main gate to the park opens. On the weekends you need a permit to park there, which I think you obtain from the main entrance. You can definitely get ticketed without this. Also, please don't use playback on these sensitive species. It seems like a real owl hotspot, let's keep it that way. This time of year they were vocalizing vigorously.

Welch Creek Rd. pre-dawn
Welch Creek Rd. post-dawn

After our Welch Creek start we hopped in cars and drove to the visitors center. From there we walked up Alameda Creek, past little Yosemite to McKorkle trail, which we followed back to the parking area.

Highlights included: Lawrence's Goldfinch, Prairie Falcon, Western Kingbirds, Bullock's Orioles, Phainopepla Bald Eagle, Golden Eagles, 4 swallow species, and an almost certainly migratory Common Yellowthroat.

Sunol Valley and McCorkle Trail

I parted ways with Derek and Alex at this point and decided to try and add just a few more species to our list for the day. The park had filled up by this point, so I drove back to Welch Creek Rd in an effort to escape the crowds. From our same parking spot in the morning (37.532049, -121.830474) I walked out to Flag Hill. I'd never approached Flag Hill from this direction before, and the walk is way easier than from the visitors center side. The deciduous oaks in the grasslands were really birdy, with plenty of Western Kingbirds and Bullock's Orioles. I added Brewer's Blackbird, Red-winged Blackbird and Lark Sparrow to our day list. 

Welch Creek Rd. to Flag Hill

In addition to the biggest bird list I've recorded in a day at Sunol, 72 species, there were good diversity and abundance of both wildflowers and butterflies. Here's a few links to iNaturalist observations of the non-birds, if you're into that stuff. Any ID help is always appreciated.

Woodland Star
California Golden Violet
Blue Dicks and colorful Skipper
Purple Owl's Clover
Indian Paintbrush
California Poppy
Bird's Eye Gilia

Hope yall can get out and enjoy spring, my favorite season in the East Bay.
Phil Georgakakos,