SF Coastal Observations, 12/29-11

Paul Saraceni

I did several SF sea/sky-watches this week, including from the south end of the Great Highway for the SF CBC on the morning of 12/29, and from Battery Godfrey on the mornings of 12/31 & 1/1 (w/Ken Schneider).

Observations of local interest:

12/29 CBC seawatch:
Canada Goose 11 (flock flying N high offshore -- from photos appear to be "Lesser" Canada Geese)
Black Scoter 2 m./1 f.
White-winged Scoter 1
Red-br, Merganser 1 f.
Heermann's Gull 210+
FOSTER'S TERN 6 (single flock flying S and diving offshore; unusual for this location in the winter)

12/31 & 1/1 Battery Godfrey:
BRANT 13 -- 1/1 (on the water in the middle of GG Channel)
Canada Goose 6 -- 1/1 (flying over Marin Headlands, possibly "Lesser")
Greater Scaup 1 m./3 f. -- 1/1 (on water below bluff)
Bufflehead 1 f. -- both days (on water below bluff)
Com. Goldeneye 2 f. -- 1/1 (on water below bluff, w/Scaup)
White-winged Scoter 1 ad. m. -- both days (on water below bluff)
Peregrine Falcon 2 -- both days
Long-billed Curlew 1 -- 12/31 (flying W over GG Channel)
Surfbird 4,8 -- both days
Black Turnstone 5 -- 12/31
Band-tailed Pigeon 80+ -- 1/1
Or-cr. Warbler 1 -- both days (wintering @ BG)
W. Meadowlark 14,6 -- both days

1 N. Elephant Seal -- swimming in GG Channel on 1/1 (appeared to be female or young male)
Harbor Porpoise 2

Finally, on 12/31, I observed an ANCIENT MURRELET flying W within 50 yards of shore from the Mile Rock overlook.

Paul Saraceni
San Francisco

Agua Vista Park herring run


Yesterday and today there's been a spectacular herring spawn event occurring at Agua Vista Park (just north of Mission Rock Resort) on the SF Bayside. Large quantities of roe on the rocks are attracting thousands of gulls, including MEW, CALIFORNIA, WESTERN, GLAUCOUS-WINGED, AMERICAN HERRING, THAYER'S, and HEERMANN'S GULLS, plus various hybrids. I spent most of today scanning through the flocks looking for 'something different'. Among the many Thayer's Gulls (mostly pale birds) were at least two adults that looked possible for 'Kumlien's' Iceland Gull, but I need to work on the ID's more, and I'm definitely not calling them Iceland for sure yet...

I have no idea how long this herring-roe feast will last... But if it continues, it seems likely that some nice rare gulls will show up this week...

Good Gulling!

Noah Arthur

Oakland, CA/Lincoln, NE

More herring run info

Noah Arthur <semirelicta@...>

A couple more details about the Agua Vista Park herring run:

First off, it's likely that large numbers of gulls will continue for at least another day or two, because every day's low tide is lower than the last. This means that more uneaten fish roe are revealed by the retreating tide every day. No guarantees, but I think there's a good chance there will still be gulls there this weekend.

Also, the low tide tomorrow is a little after noon (12:15pm). Gulling will probably be best within two or three hours of low tide, as it was today.


New Year Local Interest - Lark Sparrow, etc.

David Assmann

Started the morning of the 1st at the Golden Gate Yacht Harbor in the Marina, with about 50 BROWN PELICANS circling overhead.  A COMMON GOLDENEYE flew in and landed in the harbor, and a BONAPARTE'S GULL flew by offshore. There were four SNOWY PLOVERS in the protected area at Crissy Field. The RED-NECKED GREBE was one of four Grebe species  in Aquatic Park, along with HORNED, CLARK'S and WESTERN GREBES. There were also two RED-BREASTED MERGANSERS, a COMMON LOON and a BUFFLEHEAD.  The GREAT HORNED OWL continues in the Palm Tree behind the General's House, and the LARK SPARROW was in with 100+ WHITE-CROWNED SPARROWS in front of the hostel.  The garden featured not one, but two, NASHVILLE WARBLERS. Later in the day, I watched an ACORN WOODPECKER at Lafayette Park, and while watching a HUTTON'S VIREO feed on the western slope, an ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER flew in next to it, followed by another Orange-Crowned a few seconds later.

Re: Agua Vista Park herring run

Ken Schneider

Herring run continues at Agua Vista Park, at least a thousand gulls present right now...

Good birding!

Ken Schneider
Noe Valley

Local Interest - Tropical Kingbird, American Bittern, Eurasian Wigeon

David Assmann

Started the morning at Heron's Head and Pier 94, watching lots of ducks, shorebirds and gulls, with a continuing EURASIAN WIGEON at Pier 94 being the highlight.  Headed over to Lake Merced as the sun started to peek through the clouds and watched a minimum of 15 TREE SWALLOWS (there were probably a lot more but they were hard to count) and a VIOLET-GREEN SWALLOW from the Concrete Bridge.  The TROPICAL KINGBIRD landed in a tree above my head near the Boathouse.  Last stop was Elk Glen Lake in Golden Gate Park, and I finally saw the AMERICAN BITTERN (a bird I missed in San Francisco in 2015).

Royal Terns off of Ocean Beach, etc., SF, 1/2/16

Paul Saraceni

Saturday morning (7:30-9:00) I did a sea watch from the south end of the Great Highway. Winds were out of the E-SE, seas were relatively flat, skies were overcast, and visibility was very good.

Shortly after 8 AM, I noticed a whale blow out towards the horizon (likely Gray Whale), and a bit of a frenzy of gulls and cormorants around that. While I was scoping that activity, a group of 3 birds crossing in the foreground a few hundred yards out caught my eye. I watched them flying above and below the horizon and plunge-diving for several minutes as they steadily moved south. They were obvious terns, on the large end of the spectrum of terns, long-winged but not broad-winged, with pale gray upperparts and mostly white underwings, with just a hint of dark under the outer primaries. Their longish tails had a shallow fork. There was a small amount of black on the rear of their heads and their bills were thick and stout and appeared orangish, not red.  The wings were not as broad as Caspian Terns and they did not show the significant amount of black under the primaries that Caspians show. Neither Royal nor Elegant Terns are expected in Northern California at this time of year and Elegant Terns have been gone from SF waters since early December. Having observed thousands of Elegants from SF seawatches in the summer and fall, these 3 terns appeared to me as thicker- and stouter-billed than the longer-billed Elegants and also a bit bulkier and heavier fliers.  I last observed the 3 ROYAL TERNS heading south off of Ft. Funston. I can only speculate that they continued into San Mateo County.

Other observations of local interest during the sea watch:

BRANT 2 (flying N)
Surf Scoter 180+
Black Scoter 1 m.,1 f.
Red-br. Merganser 1 f. (flying N)
Com. Loon 2
Pacific Loon 1
Red-thr. Loon 420+ (most flying N)
Brown Pelican 60+
Marbled Godwit 57
Whimbrel 6
Sanderling 120+
Heermann's Gull 260+
Com. Murre 6
Also: Harbor Porpoise 2

A brief stop at the concrete bridge with Hugh Cotter produced some nice 1W gulls for that location: 1 Bonaparte's, 3 Thayer's, and 1 Heermann's.

We then headed over to the Bay-side to check out the current herring run.  Off of India Basin Open Space there were hundreds of ducks -- mostly Greater Scaup, Ruddy Ducks, Bufflehead, Am. Wigeon, and Surf Scoters -- within which we also observed 12-15 LESSER SCAUP, 1 f. GREEN-WINGED TEAL, 1 f. Com. Goldeneye, and a striking-looking male Am. Wigeon with an all-cream-colored face. There were a lot of gulls along the shore, including good numbers of Herring and Thayer's, 4 Forster's Terns, and typical winter shorebirds including at least 9 Black-necked Stilts and 1 Spotted Sandpiper. 

We finished up at Agua Vista where we (and other birders further up the road) pored through hundreds of gulls, including many Herring and Thayer's and 5 or so Heermann's, and various apparent hybrids, as well as 20+ Brandt's Cormorants (good for the Bay-side). We did not find any rare gull species among the hordes of gulls during our short visit.

Paul Saraceni
San Francisco

Orchard Oriole at Elk Glenn Lake in GGP

C Lou

Before the rain, this morning, I searched for the American bittern without luck. An adult male ORCHARD ORIOLE was heard calling then seen in the tules. Nice black hood, short bill and chestnut body. This is Elk Glen Lake in Golden Gate Park, where 25th Ave coming into the park.

Calvin Lou

Sent from my Verizon Wireless 4G LTE smartphone

Summer Tanager at Elk Glen Lake

C Lou

No oriole. But the Summer tanager is here in tules and trees.

Calvin Lou

Sent from my Verizon Wireless 4G LTE smartphone

Wedge-taile Shearwater?

Alan Hopkins

While scoping the ocean from the Cliff House I spotted a bird flying south that with bounding flight. The flight cadence was such that the wings were nearly perpendicular to the surface of the ocean at the height of its arc and then gliding down just above to the surface and then swooping up to the top of its arc again in a typical dynamic flight pattern. The bird was moving much more quickly and dynamically than any of the nearby gulls. The bird appeared all dark on the upper surface and dark on the underparts. The belly, neck and throat were a lighter gray but far from white. The bird’s wings were quite slender and strongly bowed forward flying on an easterly breeze of about 10mph. I don’t recall seeing the bird flap its wings, if it did so it did it infrequently however the bird occasionally disappeared behind large swells. The bill was dark, I didn’t notice the feet. The bird was clearly a tubenose of some sort, the flight cadence made me consider a pterodroma, however the lack of white underparts or the lack of pale at the base of the primaries or around the face disposed of those ideas. I considered a Long-tailed Jaeger and spent a bit of time carefully checking the wings but there was nothing to see. I also believe the flight was totally wrong for a jaeger. The most expected birds Short-tailed and Sooty Shearwaters have gray wing linings broader wings and tend to hold their wings in a straighter fashion unless they are in high winds. The body shape and color, wing shape, and flight cadence were all wrong for Northern Fulmar. Flesh-footed Shearwaters and procellaria petrels are bigger and chunkier with pale bills. I watched the bird fly south not too far off Seal Rocks for about 30 seconds until it disappeared behind the Cliff House.
It wasn’t until I got home and began thumbing through field guides the Wedge-tailed Shearwater came to mind. I did not notice that the tail was long, however that wasn’t something I was looking for. I rather dislike ex post facto bird identification like this but I feel pretty good about the bird being a Wedge-tailed Shearwater.

New Year bike ride for some SF birds


Today I too a ride to see if I could find some of the recently reported highlights.  Started at Lake Merced in the rain at 8am with the following stops:

Lake Merced – two Wilson’s Snipe were in the muddy channel across from the concrete bridge parking lot as previously reported. Not much activity on the water.   At the Boathouse I quickly found the Tropical Kingbird perched on top of the building and then it flew down and proudly perched right next to the “Fascinating Birds of Lake Merced” display.

South end of the Great Highway – male Black Scoter, Common Loon, Pacific Loon and five Whimbrels hunched together between the busy Sanderlings and resting Heerman’s gulls.

Spreckels Lake – Two Hooded Merganser pairs and two Northern Shovelers

Elk Glen – wasn’t able to find the Bittern or Summer Tanager. Only a Belted Kingfisher welcomed me.

Lloyd Lake – Two female Hooded Mergansers and a single Northern Pintail

Fort Mason – couldn’t locate the Nashville Warblers but did spot the Tropical Kingbird behind the General’s House, a Peregrine Falcon flew over and a Say’s Phoebe perched on the statue of Phillip Burton outside the community garden.

Marina Green – a Wandering Tattler and Black Turnstone were working the seawall along the large parking lot by the small watercraft harbor.

Crissy Field – 8 Red-breasted Mergansers in the lagoon, and a Common Loon offshore

Derek Heins


Agua Vista herring run -- Glaucous Gull

Noah Arthur <semirelicta@...>

The herring-roe feast continued today at Agua Vista Park today. Several thousand gulls were present, seemingly about as many as were there yesterday. Daniel Edelstein, Rudy(last name?), and I spotted a stunning first-cycle GLAUCOUS GULL around 1:30pm. Later on in the afternoon, I briefly saw and photographed a first-cycle Herring-like gull with extensive white in the tail, which appeared to be one of the Eurasian Herring Gull taxa (such as Vega or European Herring).

All the common gull species continue -- MEW, CALIFORNIA, WESTERN, GLAUCOUS-WINGED, AMERICAN HERRING, and THAYER'S GULLS, plus Glaucous-winged hybrids. Today these hybrids included two beautiful adult GLAUCOUS-WINGEDxGLAUCOUS HYBRIDS (the least-common Glaucous-winged hybrid in the Bay Area -- though still much more common than pure Glaucous Gulls!). A few HEERMANN'S GULLS were also around today, but no Ring-billeds(!?).

Low tide tomorrow is at exactly 2:00pm. So far, it seems that the biggest numbers of gulls forage at the park within about two and a half hours of low tide, so the best times tomorrow should be from about 11:30am to 4:30pm -- although it's always possible that the window of time will be shorter.

Good Gulling!

Noah Arthur
Oakland, CA/Lincoln, NE

WFO Youth Scholarship available for the June 20-28, 2016 Central Sierra Field Trip

Frances Oliver

Western Field Ornithologists is pleased to announce the availability of a youth scholarship for the Birding the Central Sierra field trip to be held June 20-28, 2016.  The scholarship is open to youths between the ages of 16 and 21.


Join leaders Jon Dunn, Lena Hayashi, Ed Pandolfino, and Dave Quady for an eight-day trip to enjoy the amazing variety of birds breeding in the Central Sierra Nevada. The field trip will visit the many diverse habitats of the region looking and listening for Sierra specialties. In addition, during the field trip the group will use their observations to address a number of questions about under-studied aspects of the status and distribution of Sierra birds.  For further details about the scholarship, please visit


The application deadline is January 20, 2016, so don't delay, send in your application today!

Frances Oliver, WFO Board Member

Lodi, CA


Crissy Field Local Interest

David Assmann

Yesterday while the tide was high, there was a WILSON'S SNIPE out in the open on the south side of Crissy Lagoon, and at least one other in the vegetation slightly camouflaged. A female GREEN-WINGED TEAL swam near the western edge. Also observed a GREATER-WHITE FRONTED GOOSE at the Yacht Harbor (maybe the same one that had been at the Palace of Fine Arts earlier).

Orchard Oriole at Elk Glenn Lake in GGP

Bob Hall

The male orchard oriole was still in the tules at about 1PM, Monday.

Fort Mason Local Interest

David Assmann

The WANDERING TATTLER was on the abandoned pier in Aquatic Park when I arrived at 7:30 this morning, shortly after high tide.  The LARK SPARROW was in with 155 WHITE-CROWNED SPARROWS in front of the hostel.  Saw Linda Swanson in the Community Garden, where we had great looks at one of the NASHVILLE WARBLERS, and had a very brief glimpse of what we thought was a Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher.  Unfortunately we could not refind the bird to confirm. A TROPICAL KINGBIRD was flycatching north of the General's House, and we observed the RED-NECKED GREBE flying over Aquatic Park.

Male Orchard Oriole photos

Mark Rauzon

The male Orchard Oriole that Calvin Lou found yesterday appeared after an hour's wait today at 11:30 and flew from the tules to the lake shore shrubs, uphill to the dead pine area. Along the way it foraged in the open allowing me to capture it in several poses. 

Later, near Lily Lake across from the Conservatory of flowers, I saw a white-throated sparrow and yellow-shatfed flicker, along with a red-shafted flicker and varied thrush, along with many sparrows and warblers -all tanking up before the storm.

Good Birding, 

Mark  Rauzon

Slaty-backed Gull at Agua Vista Park herring run

Noah Arthur <semirelicta@...>

At last, after days of searching and hoping, this afternoon there was a spectacular first-winter SLATY-BACKED GULL at the Agua Vista Park herring run. What a standout! There was no other gull that really looked anything like it among the thousands of gulls present. The neat, complete pale edgings on its warm brown wing coverts and scapulars -- forming a lined pattern similar to Yellow-crowned Night-heron -- were what first drew my attention. Other ID points are the tertial pattern (dark with broad, weakly-patterned white tips), blotchy white head and neck, and contrasting extensively white rump. Todd Easterla, of herring-run-rare-gull-finding fame, just looked at the photos and agrees with the ID as a first-cycle Slaty.

Other good birds at the herring run were the continuing first-cycle GLAUCOUS GULL, a couple of GLAUCOUS-WINGEDxGLAUCOUS HYBRIDS, a continuing probable 'Vega' Gull (Siberian Herring), and an adult possible 'Kumlien's' Iceland Gull that I'm still on the fence about (need to look at my photos more closely).

Good Gulling!

Noah Arthur
Oakland, CA/Lincoln, NE

Harding Park Golf Course Cackling Geese

Peter Pyle

Those of you at the SFCC tally may have heard me wondering about the subspecies of the Cackling Geese at Harding Park Golf Course. On the 29th, 25 Cacklings were with 6 large Canada Geese in the swale inside of and to left of the entrance gate (about half way over to the wooden bridge). They were there in the latish afternoon and unfortunately I only had time for some quick photos from the wooden bridge side (in bad light) so I did not have a chance to study them. They should be in good light from the entrance gate at this time of day. At least a few Cacklings also were reported to SFBirds in the week before the count.

They seemed very small and consistent in appearance except for the white neck hind collar, at least a couple showing this collar and others (most?) lacking them. My sense is that they may be subspecies minima, which some call Ridgway's Cackling Goose. At least one has a broad black division down the center of the throat. But my understanding (from experience on the Farallones and in Marin) is that most of our Cacklings are Aleutians (leucopareia) and Taverner's (taverneri) but my understanding may be faulty. If anyone has a chance to photograph these in good light or has thoughts on their subspecies I'd be interested.

Other highlights from the Lake Merced sector on the 29th included the Tropical Kingbird, one Great-tailed Grackle (maybe the last of the clan?), the continuing Yellow Warbler, at least 40 Tree Swallows (unfortunately in bad light so we were unable to pick out either Barn or Violet-greens, reported on subsequent days with this flock), a stunning juvenile Ferruginous Hawk circling with ravens and two Red-taileds over the Olympic Golf course at 1215, and 2 Ancient and 8 Marbled murrelets during seawatches.


Herring run word of caution

Noah Arthur <semirelicta@...>

To give everyone fair warning, it's possible that the Agua Vista herring run will be winding down tomorrow. It's been nine days since the herring run began (it was first noticed, I think, on Dec. 29th), and if I remember right, herring eggs hatch nine days after being laid. It's all over when they hatch -- no more eggs, no more gulls. However, it's possible that herring were continuing to lay eggs at Agua Vista AFTER the run was first detected, so it may not have been nine days yet since the last eggs were laid. There may still be one more good day left in this herring run. But there may not be...