Birdwatching Club at UC Davis First Year

Cameron Tescher


I wanted to give a brief summary about our first year of the Birdwatching Club at UCD and some club highlights and starting the club from nothing. Not only is this a huge part in getting college birders involved in the Sacramento Valley as a whole but also can help give inspiration to birders if they want to find some way to get birding involved with the community.

As a UC Davis student, I am amazed by the incredible wildlife programs at UC Davis where they do a great job allowing students to have hands-on experience with work and research on wildlife in many different ways. I am also amazed with the hundreds and hundreds of student organizations that people can be a part of at UC Davis. Finally, we have a decent number of students whether they are new or very into it that enjoy birding. However, many faculty, community members, and students including I were surprised despite all of this, there is no club meant solely for birders and birding alone. Therefore, Frank Fabbro, Wentao Yang, Charlie Woidat, and I decided to meet up and start this club from nothing.

It took a while over the summer to get all the logistics done with the club whether what we want this club to be, what we want to do with the club, and our plans to start the club off strong. With help of Andy Engilis and the Museum of Wildlife and Fish Biology at UC Davis, we also were able to help bring binoculars to those who need it. We sent flyers, posted on social media, talked with professors to get our flyers posted and clubs announced, and presented our club at a local club fair. From that, we got many birders who participated in our club where one time, we had 37 people show up to one field trip! Seeing this many people show up to one event after starting this club from nothing was nothing more than amazing! Also, we have over 200 people subscribed to our email list, over 300 people following our club instagram, and almost 200 people on our club discord so the amount of people who are interested in seeing what our club posts and wanting to be involved remains huge on campus. Finally, seeing students of different backgrounds with birds whether listers, photographers, wildlife and non-wildlife majors, and those who just want to appreciate a new hobby remains a huge part of the diversity of birding and birders on campus.

I think it is worth starting off with mentioning some key highlights each quarter that remain memorable for the club and birders on campus.

During fall quarter, we started our club off with a Meet and Greet. There, around 20 students showed up at the arboretum to meet other fellow students and observing some later fall migrants such as Western Tanager and Say's Phoebe. Learning from each of the students was a real joy and seeing everyone wanting to get involved was just heartwarming. Then, we had our first weekend trip at Putah Creek where 36 birders showed up and appreciated birding around the entire creek. Some notable highlights on this trip in early October included White-throated Sparrow, Black-throated Gray Warbler, Townsend's Warbler, flyover Lewis's Woodpeckers, and Red-breasted Sapsuckers. We then went to Putah Canyon where we checked out spots such as Lake Solano and the fishing accesses where some highlights on that trip was a late Black-throated Gray and Townsend's Warbler, Lewis's Woodpecker, Phainopepla, Golden-crowned Kinglets, and possibly a club favorite, a curious Northern Pygmy-Owl that was eyeing us from less than 20 feet away (it can't get cooler than that). Our final weekend trip was to the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area where we enjoyed looking at the various shorebirds and waterfowl that call the Sacramento Valley its home for winter with a surprise Rough-legged Hawk that we had short views flying above. We also had trips during the weekdays where we birded the local Davis area which allowed for many students to observe birds while taking a relaxing break from class and perhaps write a short observation on it for their Bird class that many students take in fall. Finally, we offered two presentations, one done by Andy Engilis on the Sacramento Bird Inventory and another done by Bart Wickel and Emmett Iverson on the Putah Creek Christmas Bird Count where several club members were introduced to CBCs and either participated in this one or others in the general area.

During winter quarter, it started slow due to the first four weeks being online due to the Omicron variant. Despite that, we still managed to make our club work. We started off with a virtual presentation from Emilie Graves, a PhD student with Marcel Holyoak who discussed her research on Tricolored Blackbirds, once abundant throughout the Central Valley yet now endangered with few breeding colonies left. After that, we had a weekend trip to Sacramento NWR with the Wildlife Society chapter at UC Davis where we drove the autoloop and having exciting birds such as Eurasian Wigeon, Canvasback, Lesser Scaups, and Wilson's Snipe. We then went to the Bay Area (specifically MLK Regional Shoreline and Tilden Regional Park) where we got some more exciting coastal birds such as Allen's Hummingbird, Ridgway's Rail, Brant, and Surf Scoters. Finally, our last weekend trip was to Peña Adobe Park/ Lagoon Valley Park in Solano county where I find this to be a really interesting birding area for random uncommon birds that show up near the lake where some highlights include multiple Cackling Geese, 2 Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, a Rock Wren, a pair of Blue-winged Teals, and our first Cliff Swallows for the year as a club (time around February). Also, Ohio State put together a big day competition where other birder clubs across the nation competed against each other and bird their own county and with the incredible amount of winter birds versus many northeastern counties with such few winter birds, Yolo county easily wiped out other counties with 140 species, notable highlights being Pacific Wren, Glaucous Gull, Yellow-headed Blackbird, American Bittern, and Townsend's Warbler with many club members joining and making this day possible! Some of our weekday trips included the arboretum as usual as well as Northstar Park where many of us had incredible views of Pine Siskin, a copulating pair of White-tailed Kites, and Common Gallinules.

Spring quarter remains the most hectic time of year for birders and other wildlife students. With activity picking up for migration, breeding season beginning, field work for students and faculty at its peak, and school work piling as seniors prepare for graduation, it remained a busy time for many of us. Nevertheless, our club trips were still a great part of the quarter. We started our club with an ID workshop about flycatchers in North America presented by Andy Engilis. He went over the hard (kingbirds), the brutal (pewees), and the insane (empidonaxes) so for many birders getting into it, they began to understand the hardest birds to identify. He also showed specimens of birds at the museum for identification purposes as well as the more striking species such as Vermilion Flycatcher and Scissor-tailed Flycatcher. After that, we had our first weekend trip where we birded the local wetlands around Yolo and Solano county such as the Yolo Bypass, Woodland Wastewater Treatment Plant, and the county roads south of Davis and Dixon in Solano county. Our highlights was over 170 Red-necked Phalaropes as well as a continuing group of Pacific Golden-Plovers found by Ethan Monk the day before. We then had Migration Bingo where we birded around Putah Creek, a popular area for birders in the Central Valley during spring when all the migrants shown up where some good migrants people had included Hammond's Flycatcher, Vaux's Swift, Olive-sided Flycatcher, and Hermit Warbler and also played bingo in which person can get a five bird species in a row on their bingo boards (winner was Emmett Iverson, Zane Pickus, Wentao Yang, and Violet Wu). After that was the eBird Big Day trip where we had two groups, one led by Konshau Duman and Lynette Williams, another led by me to bird separate areas of the valley to get as many species as we can in a few hotspots. Some notable highlights include oversummering Greater White-fronted and Snow Geese, Black Terns, Whimbrels, Grasshopper Sparrows, and a male Purple Martin. We also had a couple weekday trips at the arboretum where we began to see the spring hatchlings such as a local arboretum family of Great-horned Owls and the Pied-billed Grebe, Wood Duck, and Mallard chicks along the creek. We also had a Friday evening trip to Cache Creek so eat dinner while we have the Lesser Nighthawks fly and display above us which probably was the most relaxing birding experience many of us had! Finally, we ended our year just last week camping in the Sierras and birding Sierra Valley and the mountains around it where we had amazing birds, some of the highlights included displaying Willets, Black-throated Sparrow in Plumas county, Evening Grosbeaks with amazing looks, and so much more.

For those curious to learn more about the species we saw, we have a Google Drive created to show those the photos we got from each of our field trips:

I want to give a great thank you to so many people. First, I would like to thank Frank Fabbro, Wentao Yang, Charlie Woidat, Meirun Zhang, and Robanjeet Singh for remaining a part of starting the club and/or keeping this club going. Second, I would like to thank Andy and Irene Engilis and the Museum of WFB for offering a room for presentations, allowing students to view specimens, and loaning binoculars and scopes for the students during the field trips. Third, I would like to thank the following people who offered to present for the club: Emmett Iverson, Bart Wickel, Andy Engilis, and Emilie Graves as well as the following people for helping lead field trips: Danielle Fradet, Konshau Duman, Lynette Williams, and Emmett Iverson. Finally I would like to thank the students at UC Davis for helping make this club happen. This is a great organization that is new yet I hope it would last a long time!

Good birding!

Cameron Tescher
Davis, CA