Mtn Lake -- Red-eyed Vireo (continues?)

Daniel Scali

Hey bird fanatics,

Let me start by reminding folks to use caution when viewing in the Redstart nest area. It's a wonderful thing to have all these m.o.b.s (many observant birders) and curious passersby but if we stress the breeding pair or attract corvid attention or other predators it seems less likely that they will return to the lake in the future or tell their friends about it.

I headed to Mountain Lake early to check on the American Redstarts. I started out by the playground and was perplexed to hear the now familiar male's song coming both from across the lake to the north and from the south side. A little while later I confirmed one AMRE moving in a Monterey cypress south of the lake. Over in the Redstart territory, the male consistently sang near the nest for a good bit while Dave Webster and I enjoyed looks at the female, who left the nest once or twice. A really nice guy named Al came by walking his dog. He'd heard all the vagrant hullabaloo and lamented not having his bins. He was an old school hawk guy who said he'd been fortunate to pal around with birders like Dan Murphy and Joe Morlan back in the day. The male bird had been silent since before Al arrived; he left after 30 minutes of no luck. When the bird finally returned he passed an insect to his mate — his tendency toward lengthy sojourns could explain the earlier sighting across the water.

Bob Gunderson arrived and some other birders followed, including Pat Wong and a Michelle. The male was seen by all and photographed in good light. As Pat's group was disappearing around the bend, I heard what sounded like a purple finch coming from the willows, only the song was a "self song," the quieter kind one hears from solitary birds. I had never heard that from purple finch before, plus the notes started taking on a slightly different quality, more disjointed, vireo-like. I got on the large RED-EYED VIREO (one was had by Mark Dettling and then Rajan on June 18) for two seconds before it blended back into its surroundings. While Bob tried to get pics I was able to get a nice long recording (audio here: ). Ken Moy rolled up next and said the recording was good for REVI. The vireo reappeared infrequently over the next hour or more but was tough to pin down with so many birds, such as Hutton's Vireo, house and purple finches, and European starlings, making somewhat similar sounds. I finally made peace with the lack of a photo, leaving the work to a pair of young birders who were tackling the Redstarts as I pried myself from the lake's grip.

Who said summer is boring!?
Dan Scali, SF

Fort Mason Local Interest - Golden Crowned Sparrow

David Assmann

The surprise bird today at Fort Mason was a GOLDEN CROWNED SPARROW sitting on the north fence of the garden - must be an oversummering bird that has managed to elude observation the last few months. A PACIFIC SLOPE FLYCATCHER also was in the garden - probably an early dispersing bird. A WHITE-THROATED SWIFT flew by a few times. There were three young HOODED ORIOLES in and around the garden - observed one flying south up the hill which made me wonder if they fly back and forth to Lafayette Park.  The WESTERN BLUEBIRDS have successfully fledged young - the first bluebirds to fledge at this location since I started birding at Fort Mason.

San Francisco Cumulative List Update - June 2020

H Cotter

I was asked recently about whether I was still doing the cumulative list for San Francisco. I have some issues with the website where it is located in recent months but finally have the site back and with an updated cumulative list through June of 2020.

The list is located at

The cumulative total for the City for 2020 stands at 250 species (including one species pair) - the joint highest total ever at this stage of the year.

In 2018 we also had 250 species at the end of June and ended up with a final total of 301 species- the highest number since I started the list in 1998.

2020 started off relatively quiet but it was a pretty special April and May with some exceptional highlights and it will be interesting to see how the rest of the year goes from here.

The City species list overall stands at a tentative 427 species; the County list stands at 492 species.

I hope to keep updating on a more regular basis as the year moves along.


July Oddities

Brian Fitch

After spending some days in saner parts of the state, I hit the city today, with a multi-hour seawatch and a check on North Lake.

The diffuse fog haze made distant viewing tough, and all of the interesting birds were distant.  The highlight was a splotchy tubenose that glided by just over the waves heading north, nearly leading me to make a report for the sake of anyone watching from Marin and beyond.  But luckily I held back, and the bird reappeared for a second, closer pass 15 minutes later, revealing that it was a very mottled Northern Fulmar, splatter-plumaged like a Pollock painting, white and brownish gray in equal amounts.  Just as on the first pass, it flew with a stiff-winged glide and vanished among the waves heading north.  I can't recall ever seeing a fulmar here in July, but I'm pretty certain it's not unprecedented.  Several Elegant Terns were out, and also an ambitious Pigeon Guillemot carrying a fish nearly as big as its white wing patch.

At North Lake, there was an apparent Warbling Vireo on the west side across from the northernmost island.  WAVI's aren't regular in SF in July, though I know there's been one singing in the arboretum for a while.  It was feeding frenetically enough to not allow me a good view, and after 10 minutes it vanished.  It caught my attention because even though it looked mostly like a Warbling, with olive back and no wing bars, the facial marks were strange, with the feathers puffed out such that it appeared to lack any marks around the eye, but which also made it look as if it could have had an eyering.  But what got me excited for the second time in the morning was that it pumped its tail a couple of times.  It was completely silent, not even scolding when a pair of Hutton's came near.  It may only be a Warbling that had just taken a bath, but it was intriguing.

There was no sign of the Hooded Warbler when I passed by the golf course edge.

Brian Fitch

Parakeet Auklet continues 7/5

Kevin Gin

The Parakeet Auklet continued today, 7/5. Seen at around 2:00pm near shore not far from Hermit Rock. I watched it there for about 10 minutes before it circled and landed on the back side of Hermit Rock.

Kevin Gin
San Jose

Parakeet Auklet HERMIT rock

David Nelson

PAAU landed west of Hermit Rock at 17:45 and is still on the water at 18:13. Seen by Tan Snyder, Kris Dunlap , David W. Nelson and others.

Good Birding!

David W. Nelson

7/2 Swainson's thrush

Bob Hall

Had one still singing at Mountain Lake today. Seems late and interesting.

Nothing rare but lots of bird and butterfly action (and tranquility) at Sutro Rotary Meadows today. May be a good escape hatch during the crowded holiday festivities.
Bob Hall
San Francisco, CA
"There is no better high than discovery." - E.O. Wilson

American White Pelicans at Crissy

David Assmann

Six just flew in and landed

American Redstart

Chris Vance

Heard singing and seen on mtn. Lake trail 50 ft. north of mulched indentation. Seen on dried up Elderberry. Still singing on west side of trail.
Chris Vance

Young Red-tail Up Close

Richard Bradus

Well, I'm 0 for 2 for the "rare" birds over the last couple of days. By the time I made it out to the GGP golf course late this morning it had gotten pretty quiet, with no sign of the Hooded Warbler though there were counter-singing Pacific Wrens and Wilson's Warblers and the rather vocal Red-tail family that bred here this spring.

So I decided to do my usual loop around the Bercut area - whoa! There's a whole new horse stables and enclosure adjacent to the maintenance area. Guess it's been too long since I've made the rounds. Continuing around and looping to the south I was stopped in my tracks by a (another) juvenile Red-tailed Hawk on the ground, right off the main paved path paralleling MLK Drive:
Inline image

It proceeded to scrounge through the dried grass (looking for insects?) but all I saw it come up with was a blade of grass stuck in its beak. Eventually flushed into the adjacent trees by passing joggers, it clumsily flew from branch to branch a bit before eventually flying off to a more placid perch in a tree further off the path.

Nothing earthshaking, but a nice diversion nonetheless - one of my closest hawk encounters. More photos for those interested on my eBird checklist:

Happy trails!

Richard Bradus
San Francisco

Mountain Lake American Redstart Reverie - CORRECTION

Daniel Scali

Bird fans,

It turns out there's a whole lot of data out there in the world, some of which doesn't pop up with a simple Google search :)

Peter Metropulos and Chris Heyward informed me of an Am Redstart breeding record from the 1997 San Mateo Co breeding bird atlas. Fledged young were 0 AMRE and I believe multiple Brown-headed Cowbirds. I wanted further details so I searched literature Peter and Chris referenced. In the National Aubdubon Society Field Notes Vol. 51, Issue 5 (winter) from 1997, it is reported that breeding evidence of American Redstart is easily obtainable in Humboldt and Del Norte counties. It then goes on to mention that that '97 summer had the first proven records of AMRE breeding in Marin, San Mateo, and Monterey counties. These were records obtained by the likes of Ron Thorn, Rich Stallcup, and Don Roberson.

Perhaps on the GGAS Chat forum (Dominik, is that the preferred discussion place?), other California field veterans could share any other pertinent Redstart info of the last 50 years.

All that said, I am 99.9% certain the Mtn Lake record is a first for SF county.

Good birding,

Gull "Colony" in Mission Bay District

Stephen Schulz

There is a large fenced in asphalt area where Mission Bay Blvd and Channel Street run into the traffic circle at Owens Street.  Three pairs of Western Gulls have set up housekeeping and at least two of them have downy chicks wandering around.  One doesn't get too many opportunities to observe this species at close range at that age, so it's a bit exciting.

There also is one pair evidently nesting on the roof of the eight story building across from where I live on Brannan St.  I've seen copulation and nesting material being brought in. There is often on bird sitting on the corner of the roof, but I can't see onto the roof to verify what is actually happening there.

Be safe,
Steve Schulz
San Francisco

Steve Schulz
San Francisco

Re: Baby Lawrence's Goldfinch - eBird Hotspot

Richard Bradus


I tried to do just that yesterday late afternoon, thinking that it would be easier with the absence of the fog and mist, but the ridiculously strong wind kept all the birds either in cover or flying by at extreme speed, though I did see and hear lots of House Finches, a Creeper, and the Barn Owls further to the west. After nearly an hour and a half of fruitless searching for the Lawrence's family, I finally heard about 45 seconds of the male doing two stanzas of his characteristic jumbled high pitched melange (from just to the east, in the restored "Western forest" area) but was unable to actually see him.

FYI - for those of you who have posted eBird checklists over the past week, especially those who used a personally marked spot or "Forest restoration area--Presidio" (and some of you who used the Julius Kahn Playground hotspot for convenience), please note that there is a newly approved particularly apt Hotspot for this area (the forest restoration area and the trails along W. Pacific Ave. and leading past Paul Goode Field to the north) called Presidio--Southeast. It can be easily found on the SF Hotspot map on eBird or see:
As you continue to visit this area, please submit checklists using this hotspot - and those of you who have submitted checklists under a personal spot or other location should be encouraged to re-designate their checklists under this hotspot as it will very much simplify the eventual process of data aggregation.

Thanks - and continued good sightings to all

Richard Bradus
San Francisco

On Tuesday, June 30, 2020, 2:02:59 PM PDT, Daniel Scali <daniel.s.scali@...> wrote:


To answer Bob's question, I noticed today that the area where the LAGOs have been most frequently seen is full of fiddlenecks, plants that I had heard LAGOs like. This morning I watched the stunning adult male visit multiple plant patches, chomping away on his favored parts.


Re: Baby Lawrence's Goldfinch

Daniel Scali


To answer Bob's question, I noticed today that the area where the LAGOs have been most frequently seen is full of fiddlenecks, plants that I had heard LAGOs like. This morning I watched the stunning adult male visit multiple plant patches, chomping away on his favored parts.


American Redstart still at Mountain Lake


I went there on Friday and it was still singing its little head off. Was able to catch it in the act :)

Mountain Lake American Redstart Reverie

Daniel Scali

Hello Birders,

With one week on the books the rambunctious immature male American Redstart continues to dance and sing its feathered heart out along the willow corridor extending north from Mountain Lake. A bevy of birders have stopped to look and listen; a few 1000 San Francisco humans and 100s of dogs have sidled by unaware. Thanks to Rajan Rao's keen observations, we learned that the true intended recipient of the young heroes aural affection is a female American Redstart (AMRE) of undetermined age (calling all molt experts).
Yesterday morning, Juan Garcia and I rounded the bend from the freeway underpass, heading south — he had yet to visit the birds. It was quiet as we passed the willowy red elderberry patch where the youngster first sang to me in the afternoon of June 22. Then came a burst of warbler notes from the golf course side of the pathway. As we proceeded to try to get Juan visuals, we instead saw the OG AG (Angie Geiger) coming our way, having had good looks already before an agitated Robin sent the vocal Redstart in our direction. Over the next couple of minutes we teamed up to watch the show with two obviously separate AMREs moving about — one singing and one silent. Angie and I then saw one of the birds dart south into the thicket, its yellow tail flashes a beacon as it settled upon its destination. Angie SAW THE NEST first, then we all watched in disbelief as our female hero disappeared and then reappeared with a thin thread of dry grass. We stayed a while longer to enjoy the spectacle.

This morning I went back for an update. The male continued to do his usual; the female continued work on the nest (At one point, Dave Assman happened on over).
This looks to be the first California breeding record for American Redstart outside of Humboldt County. Binford and Stallcup wrote about the 1972 Humboldt record in Western Birds (; the parents were adult birds and produced nestlings. Likewise there is an adult breeding record on eBird from Ferndale Bottoms in Humboldt County in 2013. There is no information on eBird as to their success or failure and I did not find other data elsewhere. The young Mountain Lake pair have the odds stacked against them. As I'm sure we are all rooting for them, let's be very mindful about how we approach, witness, and document this extraordinary occurrence.
Infinite kudos to the Presidio Trust (and birders like Josaiah) for their incredible habitat restoration efforts.
Good birding,
Dan Scali, SF

Terns & Shorebirds, 6/28/20, etc.

Paul Saraceni

This morning during seawatching from the Cliff House in strong W winds, Hugh Cotter and I observed at least 26 ELEGANT TERNS, all of which were flying W out of the Golden Gate Channel then heading SW.

We next met up at Heron's Head Park.  Scoping from the end of the path near the tip of the peninsula we observed very distant terns out by the cargo ships in the Bay, including ~20 LEAST TERNS and ~5 FORSTER'S TERNS.  Three of the Least Terns headed W flying just past us and into India Basin allowing for close looks and listens to their calls and a few photos. They disappeared quickly -- we were unable to relocate them from various points along the Basin.  

4 Caspian Terns were also present to round out the tern species.

In addition to the local Black Oystercatchers (4) and Black-necked Stilts (8), migrant shorebirds @ Heron's Head / India Basin included:
Long-billed Curlew 3
Whimbrel 2
Willet 12

A brief stop @ Pier 94 produced the continuing GADWALL on the "Pond" in the industrial lot to the south, looking through the fence.

Also, recent returning shorebirds @ Ocean Beach included:
Whimbrel -- 9 on 6/27
Marbled Godwit -- 1 on 6/27
Willet -- 1 on 6/18 (more since then)
Western Sandpiper -- 1 ad. on 6/18 

Paul Saraceni
San Francisco

Mystery song/thread closed


Thank you all for contributing to the discussion.

Until the next one.

This THREAD is done.

Dominik Mosur
SFBirds moderator

Mystery song



Don Kroodsma sent this thoughtful message yesterday regarding a methodology for sorting out an unseen BEWR/SPTO heard on private property.  My apologies for not sending it yesterday for those curious souls that might have contemplated a dawn listen this morning.  Thought some might find his approach illuminating. 

Regarding the terms sona-gram, sonogram, and spectrogram, they all refer to the same type of visualization of sound as used in our discussions.  Spectrogram is now the recommended term in scientific literature.  The first commercial device to create spectrograms was the Sona-Graph developed in the early 1950's and manufactured by Kay Elemetrics, thus origin of the word sona-gram (or sonagram)--something akin to referring to a photocopy as a "xerox" copy.  Later, the term sonogram gained acceptance over the trade-marked Sona-graph reference.  Spectrogram is now the accepted term and avoids confusion with the medical image "sonogram" produced by ultrasound echo.  

Greg Budney
San Francisco

from Don Kroodsma...

So is it the wren or not?
Here’s how you would find out. About an hour before sunrise, stand in the vicinity where this bird was heard. Listen for a wren, a typical wren song, because the local Wren will have about 20 different songs. Also listen for a towhee, as a local towhee might have up to 10 different songs.

During the intense singing of the dawn chorus, listen for a normal wren song to be repeated 20 to 30 times, and then another wren song 20 to 30 times, and if the wren is going to sing the odd song during the dawn chorus, at some point a normal Wren song will give away to this apparently odd song, To be song 20 to 30 times. 

But if you listen during the entire dawn chorus, perhaps 45 minutes long, the wren might reveal only half of his 20 different songs. So on any given morning, you have only a 50% chance of hearing the odd song if indeed it is coming from the wren
See and the accompanying pages in the book for an illustration.

The towhee is a little different during the dawn chorus, because he works through his repertoire faster, often alternating two or three different songs. If the song is from a towhee you would have a much better chance of hearing it at dawn.

Wish I could join you in a big listen. I cannot imagine a finer way to spend an hour.
Best, Don

On Wed, Jun 24, 2020 at 10:16 PM Nico Stuurman <nico@...> wrote:
Not to distract from the bird in question (and I think we all deserve a conclusion to this thread with a visual ID;), but it is my understanding that sonograms have been in wide use in bird sound research, which involves extensive field work.  I loved reading Donald Kroodsma's "The singing life of Birds", and can recommend it to anyone interested in bird song.  Only downside is that I don't have a way to play the included CD;).



On 6/24/2020 9:44 PM, Brian Fitch wrote:
This is striking a deeper issue for me, so I'll try again.

If this is a Bewick's Wren, then it's not likely a migrant, and it could be out there trilling away in McLaren, if only we knew where to listen and look.  I would love to hear and see such an unusual event, as I have no experience in many years of birding with a Bewick's repeating the same odd song, well up in a tree, for such an extended period of time.  As I wrote earlier, Bewick's don't tend to do this. (Unfortunately, my italicizing of "likely" and "tend" will probably be lost on Sialia.)  Bewick's are famous for giving multiple variations on their theme within a short period, and usually sing from scrubby habitat even where trees are available.

My message this morning was meant as a nudge to a young birder to share more pertinent details about his find, but now he's been redirected to making spectrograms rather than making a complete report of a compelling find.

Are spectrograms an undeniable source for ID, or are they merely the aural equivalent of digital photos?  Digital shots have not lessened the human desire to toss opinions around, as witnessed by the amazing exchanges between a panel of experts on Peninsula Birds over the last few days, a discussion in which said experts have not yet agreed on the ID of a young warbler.  Conversely, many published photos are unequivocal in their ID usefulness, so perhaps spectrograms are similarly useful much of the time?

I have little experience with using sonagrams, as they were called in my childhood copy of the Golden Guide.  The 1966 edition has an introduction to bird song that focuses completely on sonagrams and their interpretation, as if it was the latest new thing in understanding song ID.  The book has sonagrams for all four of the species that have been proposed in this thread, but only a single graph for each species, as if there could be no variation.  In the intervening years, I've heard little if anything about them, which raises the question of why they fell out of favor if they are so useful.   And now they've back under the title of spectrogram.  Does this represent some new breakthroughs in sound technology, or is it just a returning trend of the moment, prompted by some new app?  eBird has recently been inundated with spectrograms and recordings, but that doesn't clarify the cause of the huge increase, whether it represents a fad or a real advancement in knowledge. 

I can see similarities between all three graphs that Frank sent, but none of the three are identical.  It would be informative to see a rendering of the wren that Mike describes, as that might supply some correlative facts rather than opinions.  Is it a fact that every variation of Bewick's song shows an identical frequency in the trill, and that every Blue-winged also always shows a tighter set of lines?  In other words, are the spectrograms truly diagnostic in this case?  Is there never variation in frequency to the point of overlap between species?

Most if not all of my on-line arguments of the past decade have been with individuals or panels of experts who were sitting at their screens trying to judge the actual experience of myself or others through technologically rendered derivations, through virtual experience.  Virtual versus actual, machine versus human.  I know that humans make perceptual errors, but humans make the machines, imbed their biases in them, and then too often compound their errors in the interpretation of the machine's output.  And yet here I am trying to compare Eddie's recording and spectrogram to other recordings on Xeno-Canto, so I'm also trying to judge the actual through the virtual, which leaves me more open to the possibility of being flat out wrong about my ID thoughts.  Yet there are simply too many odd circumstances involved in this case for me to let a spectrogram rule out other possibilities, unless spectrograms have risen to a new level of diagnostic capacity.

I'm very interested in hearing and seeing the bird that is giving this song, be it a wren, warbler, towhee, or junco.  I'm also willing to engage any tool that can help me refine my senses, but not ones that deny human perception or override it in a categorical manner.  Binoculars refine my eyesight in every case, but it's unclear to me whether spectrograms are comparable, or if they represent a less reliable tool.

Brian Fitch

On Wed, Jun 24, 2020 at 5:52 PM Daniel Scali <daniel.s.scali@...> wrote:
This should be better. Sialia doesn't show attachments. If it's still tiny, just look at someone else's post for the Spectogram.

From Denise Wight:

Hi Daniel,
I'm going with Bewick's Wren.  In the attached spectrogram, the second trill shows a note at the top, a slight jump, like a dotted "i" which a lot of trilling birds don't have. The tone sounds good for Bewick's Wren, too.  Spotted Towhees occasionally have strange two-parted songs, so I thought about that as a possibility, too. But I've heard soooo many Bewick's Wrens that have the most bizarre variations in songs. One at Mitchell Canyon had only two quick, same pitched buzzes for his song, and was found in the same location 2 years in a row!

Greg Budney
San Francisco

Mount Sutro Parula, singing Swainson's

angie geiger

Walked to the summit of Mount Sutro yesterday to look for Dan's Northern Parula. In spite of heavy, drippy fog, the summit was hopping with bird activity. Most abundant were DE Juncos with lots of juveniles. Lots of fighting, including between adult male Juncos, Wilson's Warblers and HBs of both species, respectively. The Northern Parula made an appearance in a tree at the summit above the SW facing slope where Dan originally reported it earlier this week. It was singing occasionally, which was helpful in locating the bird. Eventually, it was replaced by two Hutton's Vireos. Last note - there was a singing and calling Swainson's Thrush along the North Ridge Trail about halfway down to Medical Center Way.

Good birding, y'all
Angie G.
SF Birder
Stay Well, Be Happy, Go Birding