Science for a Blue Planet

Featuring cutting-edge work, discoveries, and challenges of our scientists, our partners, and the larger conservation science community.

The Common Mers’ Bird-A-Thon Day Mer-ventures and Fin-tastic Finds

Spoiler alert: we didn’t end our day in a swim as planned due to weather and timing, but we definitely scaled up our collective knowledge and excitement about the amazing birds and other animals and plants that share the land, wetlands, and water with us.

The Common Mers team (L to R): Liz Ramstad aka Mermaid Depth, Nancy Luna aka Tiki Nancy, Murrey, Lishka Arata aka Mermaid Topaz, Anne Schaefer aka Siren Spice.

The mermaid pod gathered at Point Blue’s headquarters along the shore of Shollenberger Marsh. The tide was low so many of the shorebirds were too far out to identify from the levee path. But we could identify an American White Pelican, a Great Egret, and some gull species. We were enraptured by the raptors: a Red-tailed Hawk devouring a rodent up in a pine tree, a female or juvenile male Northern Harrier flying low over the marsh, and two Turkey Vultures perched close on the fence along the path. We were delighted to see Song Sparrows foraging under the native plants on the slope between the pickleweed and the dirt path, habitat restored by local students who participated in Point Blue’s STRAW program and cared for by dedicated restoration technicians!

Mermaid Topaz nd Tiki Nancy do an impromptu trash clean up along the Nicasio reservoir.

From Shollenberger Marsh we made our way out to Nicasio Reservoir and caught sight of a group of Common Mer-ganzers on the water! One mermaid noticed how they all dove down into the water to forage at once, like synchronized swimmers in an Esther Williams production. Another mermaid was appalled at the amount of trash left on the shore and led an impromptu trash clean-up. Mental note to always bring a trash bag and gloves when out birding! Ugh.

Leaving the place cleaner than we left it, we frolicked on towards Point Reyes Station. We made a quick stop at the secret wood duck pond where we found no wood ducks, but one mermaid spotted a Black-crowned Night Heron roosting in a tree overhanging the pond. Nice!

As we drove through some neighborhoods outside of downtown Point Reyes Station, a Golden-crowned Sparrow stopped us with its sweet sad song. Then we looked out the window of the car on the other side of the street and saw a Downy Woodpecker foraging low in a small, front yard tree-bush. Drive by birding at its finest. 

At our bathroom stop, we ran into a biker gang from Lake County who took interest in our cause, one of them being a scuba diver aka merman himself!

Next stop was lunch at the Inverness Store along Tomales Bay. A Double-crested Cormorant greeted us with wings spread, perched out in the water on a floating buoy. We enjoyed sandwiches, snacks, a photoshoot by the famous shipwreck, and then a mature Bald Eagle just happened to fly over. Score!

The Common Mers in fron of the Tomales Bay Shipwreck in Inverness, CA.

Bellies, eyes, and hearts full we moved on towards the Cypress Tree Tunnel. But we had to make a quick stop at some iconic spots that were featured in the 1980s film The Fog, much of which was shot in the Point Reyes area. Once we got to the tunnel, we saw the usual flock of tourists posing for Instagram photos, and as we walked down to the end, a flock of birds beckoned with their calls and chatters. There was a Hutton’s Vireo, Townsend’s Warblers, a Hairy Woodpecker squeak, a Bewick’s Wren… Then we looked up and there was a Ferruginous Hawk! This less common migrating hawk was confirmed by a fellow birder that stopped to chat with us.

Though we felt accomplished with those special sightings, we were still hungry for more, so we moved on to Chimney Rock, a world famous migrant trap. It did not disappoint. As we walked along the cypress-tree lined road, we came upon a whispering group of birders peering into the trees. “What are you seeing?” I whispered to one woman. She pointed out a juvenile male Western Tanager and then as we listened and looked, we saw more Townsend’s Warblers, Ruby-Crowned Kinglets, Yellow-rumped Warblers, and a Tennessee Warbler! There was sure to be more in there that we couldn’t detect, but that’s ok. We felt we found enough treasure there and moved back towards the elephant seal colony. 

Sirens under Cypress

We heard the seals before we saw them, snorting and gutterally calling. Then as we pointed the scope down on the shore we saw a nice group of what looked to be juvenile elephant seals. As we scanned the water we also saw a Harbor Seal, Brown Pelican, Heermann’s Gulls, more cormorants, and…. One Common Murre!!! Our mascot bird! That was basically the ending punctuation for our birding day. We headed out to the Lighthouse to enjoy the fog, ferns, and dreamy view.

Tiki Nancy scoping the elephant seal colony overlook at Chimney Rock, Point Reyes National Seashore

This was not only the first annual mermaid bird-a-thon, but also two of the mermaids’ first ever birding experience! So 55 bird species was amazing for us as a whole. Even though it’s a smaller number as far as bird-a-thons go, almost all of those were lifers for some of us. We basically get to double our score and we might win bird-a-thon. We are grateful to all of our supporters thus far who have helped us raise $1,229 towards our goal of $3,800. We would be thrilled if you could share our story and our cause to help us reach our goal by October 15th! Visit our page to donate!

Our Of-fish-al List of Feathered and Furry Treasures Found!

  1. American Crow (acorn in mouth)
  2. Turkey Vulture
  3. Song Sparrow
  4. Great Egret
  5. Ring-billed Gull
  6. Marsh Wren
  7. American White Pelican
  8. Northern Harrier
  9. Canada Goose (24+)
  10. Red-tailed Hawk
  11. Red-shouldered Hawk
  12. Black Phoebe
  13. Say’s Phoebe
  14. California Scrub-Jay
  15. Common Merganser
  16. Killdeer
  17. Black-crowned Night Heron (adult)
  18. Common Raven
  19. Chestnut-backed Chickadee
  20. Northern Flicker
  21. California Towhee
  22. Golden-crowned Sparrow
  23. Downy Woodpecker (male)
  24. White-crowned Sparrow
  25. Red-winged Blackbird
  26. Brewer’s Blackbird
  27. Rock Pigeon
  28. American Goldfinch
  29. European Starling
  30. California Quail
  31. Double-crested Cormorant
  32. Bald Eagle
  33. Hutton’s Vireo
  34. Townsend’s Warbler
  35. House Finch
  36. Western Bluebird
  37. Hairy Woodpecker
  38. Bewick’s Wren
  39. Ferruginous Hawk
  40. Lesser Goldfinch
  41. Great Blue Heron
  42. American Kestrel
  43. Mallard
  44. Common Loon
  45. Brown Pelican
  46. Surf Scoter
  47. Western Tanager
  48. Ruby-crowned Kinglet
  49. Yellow-rumped Warbler
  50. Tennessee Warbler
  51. Osprey
  52. Brandt’s Cormorant
  53. Heerman’s Gull
  54. Common Murre!!!
  55. Oak Titmouse


  1. Black-tailed Deer
  2. Tule Elk
  3. Jack rabbit
  4. Elephant Seal
  5. Harbor Seal
  6. Coyote