A belated post from Sunday 3/23/08: I took the always welcome opportunity to join a bird walk led by San Francisco birder Dominik Mosur at Land's End. On the way I stopped by 'Lily Pond' a tiny little pond known for its surrounding forest of tree ferns across the way from the Conservatory of Flowers. There on the water, a new bird for the year, a female Wood Duck that had been reported a few days earlier, swam with Mallards. The small, sheltered and tree lined pool seemed a natural spot for this species and it's strange they are a rarity in SF and don't breed more regularly here. Only a few a feet a way, I didn't even need to get binoculars to see the Wood Duck, but I got them out anyway to look through the huge flock of Cedar Waxwings, American Robins, Townsend's Warblers, and Yellow-rumped Warblers that was flying about above me. I pecked through the flock looking for an early season migrant. No luck. But the number of Cedar Waxwings was impressive. That morning and for a few days before, there numbers had amassed in the City, to the point that fifteen minutes spent in any park or residential neighborhood would be rewarded with at least one small flock flying by and calling "seee-eee see-eeee".
I quickly pedaled through Golden Gate Park now, late for Dominik's walk. At Land's End I joined Dominik and the crowd on the concrete shell of deserted old Battery Chester. Gradually we made our way down to Mile Rock overlook and scoped for sea birds. I was hoping to find a White-winged Scoter to add to my list, but we saw only Surf Scoters, Red-throated Loons, Western Grebes and cormorants. Then Dominik did spot a Pigeon Guillemot close to the rocks. Another new one for the day: 176 for the year. After this, we hiked back through the willows hoping to hear or see another first of season bird, but any such sign of the season had not arrived, or if it had it was keeping itself secret.
I biked back to Golden Gate Park and made a walk around the south west side of North Lake where a Nashville Warbler had been reported all winter. Finally, after many unsuccessful trips this year I found the bird. It was arrestingly bright. Its head was a smooth grey and its back and wings were vividly green crisply contrasting with a bright yellow throat and breast. It also had the characteristic thick white eye line that make this species seem almost like a painting of an imagined song bird. But there it was in the feather, real. I could see that the cap of this one was a little bit mussed up, perhaps it was a male molting its characteristic bright red cap feathers.
I got word that White-winged Scoters were still reliably being seen from Fort Funston a few miles south of Golden Gate Park. I biked there through the sunny and decidedly un-birdy outer Sunset Neighborhood. At Fort Funston, legions of dogs accessorized their sunglass clad, plastic bag toting owners. I trudged up the iceplant slopes to the overlook and could see a large flock of scoters out on the water. They were quite far off but if I lay down and propped my elbows on the iceplant, careful to avoid the ubiquitous dog debris, I had quite a good view with my 8x32s. I scanned through about fifty scoters, but lighting and distance made it hard to verify any white wings. Then one bird stretched up out of the water and flapped--there! Bright white secondary feathers towards the inside of the wings. I watched for another 10 minutes or so. Every bird in the flock that did this was a White-winged Scoter, there must have forty or so. Another new bird for the day and year! 178. A hang-glider passed a few feet over my head.
3/23/08, new species: