Birding at SD

This morning I led Software Development’s first ever Birds of a Feather on the subject of birding. 10 hearty, early rising attendees gathered in the hotel lobby at 6:00 A.M. where we shared three cabs to Sunnyvale Baylands Park. From there the plan was to follow the water back to the hotel.

Map created by

We started in the experimental recycled water gardens. I was hoping for a hummingbird but it was a little early and cold for them. However we did find our first bird of the day, Bushtit. Numerous gulls were flying over but I’m hopeless at identifying California gulls on the fly.

From there we walked out to the boardwalk. On the way we spotted one, then two Red-tailed Hawks. We also had our first Great Egret fly over. At the base of the boardwalk we found the first two Black Phoebes, flicking their tails.

Further along the boardwalk we spotted numerous American Coot, Northern Shoveler, Gadwall, Red-winged Blackbird, and Black-necked Stilt, all of which were new to some people in the group. Western Meadowlarks were flying through the reeds. We also had Mallard and Canada Goose. Walking back to the shore we spotted a Great Blue Heron flying by.

Red-winged Blackbird on Boardwalk

From there we followed the shorepath to the next observation point, where we spotted a beautiful full adult Golden Eagle being harassed by a rather brave (or stupid) White-tailed Kite. This was only the second Golden Eagle I’d ever seen in my life, and by far the closest and most identifiable. It flew back and forth maybe 200 meters away, apparently hunting jack rabbit.

Golden Eagle at Sunnyvale Baylands

Continuing along the path, some interest was expressed in these tracks:

I’m pretty sure the large tracks are either a Great Blue Heron or Great Egret, just from the size. The small tracks might be raccoon. I’m not sure. I’ve never seen raccoons here. Is this plausible?

Our fourth raptor of the day was a tiny American Kestrel perched on a pole. It flew away too quickly to get pictures though. Just a little further along, I was pointing out some Ruddy Ducks when our first Anna’s Hummingbird, a beautiful male, was spotted:

Annas Hummingbird

I had been afraid we’d be out too early when the hummingbirds were still in a torpor but apparently at least this one had woken up.

Just past this bush, someone pointed me at a small duck. At first I thought it was just another Ruddy, but on closer inspection it turned into our first Pied-Billed Grebe.

From there we followed the bike path out of the park along the 237 freeway wall. We had lots more Great Egrets, another White-tailed Kite, several House Finches, and great looks at a (the?) Great Blue Heron. We also spotted several of these unidentified snails:

The final birds in the park were 9-10 House Finches perched on a wire.

Walking out of the park along the 237 bike path, we passed some more Ruddy Ducks and another Pied-billed Grebe. Off in the reeds numerous Marsh Wrens were singing. We also spotted our first definite White-crowned Sparrows and saw our only Song Sparrow. (I’d heard a few earlier.) That was about it until we reached San Tomas creek. I was scoping (binning?) two American White Pelicans when a Green Heron flew by and perched on a muddy bank, giving everyone great looks. After the heron moved along, we refocused on the pelicans and several dozen American Avocets in the middle of Harvey Pond. Then five or six goldfinches flew into a nearby tree, but nobody could make out whether they were American or Lesser. I’m about 70% convinced they were American, but I’m not certain. The calls didn’t sound quite right for American Goldfinch. That could be because the Western birds learn a different flight call, or it could be because these were actually Lesser Goldfinches.

Walking back to the hotel along San Tomas Creek, the Marsh Wrens got louder as the traffic got quieter. About half the group finally actually saw a Marsh Wren, though we all heard them. These birds hide and are much more easily heard than seen.

We also picked up our first Mourning Doves, House Sparrows, and California Gulls. (Undoubtedly we’d had California Gulls flying over before, but these were the first close enough and still enough for me to be comfortable calling them California instead of Ring-billed.)

We arrived back at the hotel about 8:20, just in time for morning classes.

Eric van der Vlist with camera

The final birds of the day were American Crow and our first European Starling. Total species count was 33:

  • Canada Goose
  • Gadwall
  • Mallard
  • Northern Shoveler
  • Ruddy Duck
  • Pied-billed Grebe 2
  • American White Pelican 2
  • Double-crested Cormorant
  • Great Blue Heron 1
  • Great Egret
  • Green Heron 1
  • White-tailed Kite 2
  • Red-tailed Hawk 2
  • Golden Eagle 1
  • American Kestrel 1
  • American Coot
  • Black-necked Stilt
  • American Avocet
  • California Gull
  • Rock Pigeon
  • Mourning Dove 2
  • Anna’s Hummingbird 3
  • American Crow
  • Bushtit
  • Marsh Wren
  • European Starling
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • Song Sparrow
  • White-crowned Sparrow
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • House Finch
  • House Sparrow
  • Western Meadowlark
  • Goldfinch sp.

Notable misses included Golden-crowned Sparrow (we had some maybes, but nothing I was sure of) and Red-shouldered Hawk. It was a fun morning, and we’ll definitely do it again in future years. One thing I should definitely do next year is bring extra binoculars and a scope. We had a lot of beginners who didn’t all have binoculars, so it would be nice to have a few loaners. I had thought about bringing some with me, but I just didn’t have the space in my suitcase. I am hoping to buy a scope this summer, and if I do I’ll definitely bring that with me next year. Until then, Happy Birding!

2 Responses to “Birding at SD”

  1. Mokka mit Schlag » What I Learned at SD Says:

    […] Equally prominent in hallway conversations was the topic of birding. However that was very clearly personal since I was leading SD’s first ever Birding BOF. The most common question was, “Do you really think anybody’;s going to get up at 6:00 A.M. to go birding before the conference?” Well, ten intrepid souls did (though Europeans and East Coasters were disproportionately represented). You can read about it here. We’ll definitely do this one again next year. […]

  2. Elliotte Rusty Harold Says:

    Alexander Grosholz has posted some more photos from the BoF.

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