#392 White-throated Swift at Shoreline Lake

I had a spare afternoon to kill in Silicon Valley today so I headed over to one of my favorite birding destinations in the country, Shoreline Park and Lake in Mountain View. As usual I was not disappointed. On a lazy afternoon in December, without even a scope, I managed 49 species including a life bird!

Brown Pelicans and Ring-billed Gulls on pier

Luckily I arrived at the site just at low tide so there were lots of wintering shorebirds feeding very close in: Long-billed Curlew, Western Sandpiper, Willet, Marbled Godwit, and the always stunning Black-necked Stilts and American Avocets. (The latter is the only bird I know that looks even more impressive in winter plumage than breeding plumage.)

American Avocets in winter plumage

There were also lots of waterfowl–Gadwall, American Wigeon, Cinnamon Teal, Green-winged Teal, Northern Shoveler, Canvasback, Bufflehead, Ring-necked Ducks, and more. Several Common Goldeneye were present though I did not find the Barrow’s Goldeneye that had been reported at this site lately. As usual Surf Scoters were easier to find on the lake than anywhere else I’ve ever seen them. In New York Surf Scoters are usually dots you can barely make out through a scope half a kilometer out into the ocean. Here they might as well be Mallards, they’re so easy to find.

Surf Scoter

When I reached Shoreline Lake, I spotted Eared Grebe, Horned Grebe, and Western Grebe. This is a tough one to call, especially in non-breeding plumage and without scope. It’s very similar to Clark’s Grebe (indeed they used to be considered one species). The bill on the Western is supposed to have a smaller, duller bill. Unfortunately in the afternoon light, the bill seemed to keep shifting from bright yellow to dull yellow and back again. Sometimes the sun can play tricks on you like that. It’s a good reason not to rely on colors for ID. In many locations I would have just had to chalk it up as an Aechmophorus sp., but at Shoreline Lake this bird was so close that even with just binoculars I could see enough of the face to be confident that the dark feathers on the face extended below the eye. That turned it into a definite Western Grebe (though I had to go back the next morning and take some more photographs before I was absolutely sure).

Western Grebe

Shoreline Park is best known for shorebirds and waterfowl, but it’s not lacking in land birds either. These included Anna’s Hummingbird, California Towhee, White-crowned Sparrow, and Golden-crowned Sparrow:

Two Golden-crowned Sparrows feeding on ground

After grabbing a burger for lunch at the park restaurant, I wandered out along the roads across from the golf course to look for the reputed Burrowing Owls. (I’m told they nest here but I’ve never seen one here.) Once again I whiffed on the Burrowing Owl, but I did spot some very strange birds I was 90% certain was a life bird. They looked like large Chimney Swifts wearing tuxedos, and I’d never seen anything like that. (A nagging 10% doubt thought they might just maybe be Violet-green Swallows.) Unfortunately, Virgin America had lost my Sibley’s Western Field Guide along with the rest of my luggage earlier that day so I couldn’t check immediately. However when I got back to the hotel, I started googling for western swift species and rapidly came up with White-throated Swift, a perfect match for the birds I’d seen hawking for insects in the sky.

I walked back slowly to my car, and added a few more birds for the day, including Pied-billed Grebe (a 4 Grebe day!) and almost a dozen more Black-crowned Night-herons. Total species seen that day were:

  • Canada Goose
  • Gadwall
  • American Wigeon
  • Mallard
  • Cinnamon Teal
  • Northern Shoveler
  • Green-winged Teal
  • Canvasback
  • Greater Scaup
  • Surf Scoter
  • Bufflehead
  • Common Goldeneye
  • Ruddy Duck
  • Pied-billed Grebe
  • Horned Grebe
  • Eared Grebe
  • Western Grebe
  • American White Pelican
  • Brown Pelican
  • Double-crested Cormorant
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Great Egret
  • Snowy Egret
  • Black-crowned Night-Heron
  • Turkey Vulture
  • Red-tailed Hawk
  • Black-necked Stilt
  • American Avocet
  • Willet
  • Long-billed Curlew
  • Marbled Godwit
  • Western Sandpiper
  • Short-billed/Long-billed Dowitcher
  • Ring-billed Gull
  • California Gull
  • Herring Gull
  • Mourning Dove
  • White-throated Swift
  • Anna’s Hummingbird
  • Black Phoebe
  • American Crow
  • Common Raven
  • Ruby-crowned Kinglet
  • American Robin
  • Northern Mockingbird
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • California Towhee
  • White-crowned Sparrow
  • Golden-crowned Sparrow

Leave a Reply