Looking Back at How Good We Looked
November 26, 2021
The Lookers 2021 Bird-A-Thon Team’s Recap written by Mark Dettling, Point Blue Avian Ecologist
Thank you so much to all who supported The Lookers and Point Blue’s Palomarin Field Station! Our West Marin team had a great (but windy!) day of birding motivated by your donations and ended up finding 126 species. Starting last year, we’ve also invited our alumni around the world to join The Lookers and bird wherever they are. So far we’ve gotten lists from several folks around the US including Southern California, the Central Valley, Oregon, Mississippi, and Pennsylvania. The combined species list stands at 205! Such a great way to reconnect with our alumni and motivate them to get out and bird.
We had a great group of Lookers looking their best in West Marin. A couple members of the team (Diana Humple and Renee Cormier) couldn’t join us in person because they were responding to the oil spill in Southern California, but they were with us in spirit and broaches (thanks Renee!). The team consisted of Maia Nguyen, Kevin Garcia, Wren Leader, Mike Mahoney, Mark Dettling, Megan Elrod, Kristy Dybala, Hilary Allen (and Brynn), Dennis Jongsomjit, and Lishka Arata, all of which are current or former Palo interns. We started birding at 4:08pm on October 10 at the bluffs above Agate Beach in Bolinas scanning the ocean for the birds of the near shore (cormorants, pelicans, gulls, murres). Within 20 minutes we had seen most of the expected species, so headed out on a walk around the nearby neighborhood. If you don’t know, Bolinas isn’t your typical neighborhood and it actually has a lot of bird diversity. In about an hour of walking around we saw typical suburban species (California Towhee, House Finch, California Scrub-Jay, American Crow, Chestnut-backed Chickadee) as well as some species you would expect in more wild areas (Great Horned Owl, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Brown Creeper, Townsend’s Warbler, Wilson’s Warbler, Western Tanager). A highlight was seeing a couple Peregrine Falcons seemingly chasing a Merlin! We had found 53 species and still had an hour and a half of sunlight.
After a quick drive, we were birding again at Pine Gulch on the Bolinas Lagoon, looking for songbirds in the riparian forest and waterbirds and waders on the lagoon. It was a lovely evening with the setting sun lighting the Bolinas Ridge in a soft orange glow. Our sharp-eyed team continued to add species to the list (American Wigeon, Great Egret, Great Blue Heron, Snowy Egret, American Avocet, Long-billed Curlew, Marbled Godwit, Willet, Greater Yellowlegs, Bald Eagle, Hutton’s Vireo, Marsh Wren, Hermit Thrush). As the light was waning, we drove to the north end of the lagoon to check out a flock of ducks (Green-winged Teal) and finally heard an expected Acorn Woodpecker. With the sun fully set, our total was up to 77 species. It was time to head home for some rest, we had a full day ahead of us and a lot more species to find!
Several members of the team couldn’t join us for day two, so we had a lean, mean birding team of the current banders and Mark. A predawn start along Lagunitas Creek for owls didn’t produce any new species. Traffic and wind noise didn’t help. Battling the wind was the theme of day two. Our next stop at Olema Marsh was to listen for rails and we did hear one Virginia Rail between gusts. We made it to the Abbott’s Lagoon parking lot just before sunrise, and headed out on foot across the fields to the south end of the lagoon. On our way we saw a Burrowing Owl and a flock of Cackling Geese. The winds were really howling, but luckily most of the expected ducks and shorebirds were hunkering down in their usual spots at the south end. We brought a handheld anemometer and measured gusts as high as 48kph (30mph)! A surprise was 6 Mute Swans, a species which has established populations in other parts of Marin but not in the coastal areas yet. Other highlights included Ferruginous Hawk, American Pipit, Northern Shoveler, Eurasian Wigeon, Northern Pintail, Ruddy Duck, and Snowy Plover. The hike back to the parking lot was mercifully downwind giving our faces a break from the sandblasting. With spirits still high, we left the parking lot with our species list up to 104!
We quickly got to 105 with our first Say’s Phoebe of the day along the road as we made our way to Outer Point Reyes. With the weather as it was, we didn’t expect to see many migrating landbirds, but we did have a few species to scrounge up. At one of the ranches we had a flock of blackbirds that included some Tricolored Blackbirds. The further ranch out hosts Rock Pigeons and House Sparrows, which becomes exciting during a West Marin Bird-a-thon! At the Fish Docks we scoped the bay to find Red-necked Grebe and Common Loon. The trees around the residence did hold a couple migrants for us, a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher and Lesser Goldfinch. An unexpected bonus bird was a single Greater White-fronted Goose that flew by and sent us on our way with 115 species.
With only a few hours remaining, we began to strategize about which locations would get us the most species. We decided our next stop would be Drake’s Beach and in no time we had added four species (Sanderling, Sora, Horned Grebe, American Goldfinch). A critical stop at Inverness Park Market was made for burritos and Its-Its before we hightailed it to the Oak Titmouse spot on Bear Valley Road. No luck with the titmouse, so we decided to finish our afternoon at Five Brooks with the chance to pick up a good number of species. It was sunny and calm at Five Brooks so it was a lovely way to finish the Bird-a-thon. At the start of the trail we were stopped talking to a hiker when a Sharp-shinned Hawk flashed by for number 120. A few dozen meters down the trail we unexpectedly had an Oak Titmouse (121) and then expectedly had some Pine Siskins (122). We continued around the pond looking for Wood Duck (no luck), but did see three Wilson’s Snipe (123) and a flock of Violet-green Swallows (124). With just minutes left, some in the group had both Band-tailed Pigeon (125) and Varied Thrush (126)!
Such a great 24 hours of birding! We capped it off with celebratory drinks at Smiley’s and reflections on our roses, buds, and thorns for Bird-a-thon. We hope you enjoy reliving the day with us! Please let me know if you have any questions about our work. I love talking about birds and our research 😉 Thanks again for your support!
The Lookers’ Bird List (from the West Marin team)
Greater White-fronted Goose
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)
Great Blue Heron
Great Horned Owl