Friday, February 26, 2010

A tale of two cities - Sunday

Sunday we had a circular route planned, hopefully avoiding the rainfall. Oh well. Anyway first we set-off to find the San Pablo National Wildlife Refuge. We found it, sort of. We couldn't locate the visitors' centre nor any trails so had to make do with a brief stop in a 'wildlife viewing area', whereupon we got our first new species of the day Canvasback:

Unfortunately there was accompanying gunfire. Yes a National Wildlife Refuge is a designated hunting location. Genius isn't it. Not only that but this killing for kicks was (a) out of season and (b) therefore illegal. America and the UK have identical policies in this respect, that is to do absolutely nothing about it. We've witnessed shooting on Grouse Moors in Scotland in June, and illegal pheasant shoots in Northamptonshire in February, after the season is closed. All this illustrates to us is that wildlife crime has been 'de-selected' by police forces both in the UK & the USA. Great. The message is kill what you want when you want and frankly who cares. Well actually lots of people do, just not those who carry guns... the only solution is to remove all gun licences and then grant them to those who can prove a need, not just a base desire. I can only hope...

Anyway, moving on from yet another example of our species own nadir, we headed first to a nature reserve North of Oakland, however the rain was by now genuinely persistent, think Manchester in April, and the only building around was a dog grooming parlour, so next stop a wetland by Oakland Airport.

A note in praise of US airports. There's a theme emerging from our US travels, that is no one wants to live slap bang next to the airport, which is great, as a lot of them are built on reclaimed land and tend to have accompanying wetlands. It's no small claim to say that this location was by far and away the most productive of our short holiday and the one we would unreservedly recommend to others. Where to begin?

Well it was raining, but the close proximity of this drake Surf Scoter caught my attention:

As did this drake Bufflehead, I hadn't realised how small these ducks are:

Our first new species of the day was this Forster's Tern, flying past:

A Snowy Egret hunched against the rain:

The rain stopped briefly enabling us to get out of the car and have a look around. On the water a number of Greater Scaup were present, both male:

and female:

Also there were Marbled Godwits, and Western Meadowlarks, though drenched it was good to see them close enough to photograph:

Ring-billed Gulls:

Pacific Golden Plover and Short-billed Dowitchers, both new species, this shot shows the Dowitchers:

Dunlin and a small group of Cackling Geese, interspersed amongst Canada Geese, this picture shows one of each, the Cackling Goose being the significantly smaller, though adult, bird:

Also, amongst the Canada Geese, this Greater White-fronted Goose:

Helen tuned into a really pretty bird song, which took us quite some time to track down, eventually the culprit turned out to be this House Finch, though a little more orange looking then we expected...

Back out on the water, a Great Northern Diver, though in truth it was much paler than I'm used to and I'm not sure about the strength of the bill either:

Close to shore an American Avocet wandered past:

As did Black-winged Stilts, Western Sandpipers, more Bufflehads, Common Goldeneye:

a pair of Long-billed Dowitchers, Mew Gulls and a pair of Glaucous-winged Gulls:

Hanging out in the car park, Ruby-crowned Kinglet:

Yellow-rumped Warblers:

We decided to walk a little up the path heading towards town. We hadn't appreciated that the small lake set aside from the estuary was a purpose-built wader roost and sometime before high-tide accommodated a lot of different ducks including, American Wigeon, Green-winged Teal, Northern Shoveller, Mallard and Northern Pintails:

Along the path we saw Common Yellowthroat and new species number nine of the day this 'Sooty' Fox Sparrow:

The rain stopped play. Frankly we should probably have noticed the wet stuff a little sooner. By the time we made it back to car it was really 'persistent'. We decided to head for the Starbucks we'd seen a few miles before, though ended up in the Quizno's next door. Good subs :) From lunch we decided to try some other spots, including Lake Merced, south of San Francisco, which was a wash-out (literally), then further south on Route 1 to Half-moon Bay and into the hills heading south, all of which proved either inaccessible or too wet. So with time on our hands and the weather set against us we though we'd pop back to Oakland to see if there was anything else to see. Well the lack of humans around meant the squirrels were out and about looking for food:
A flock of Dunlin:
With a Least Sandpiper in front them (and a Marbled Godwit to the side):
We also saw Ruddy Ducks:

Pied-billed Grebes:

Horned or Slavonian Grebes:

A Great White Egret caught a tiny fish, I can't imagine it even noticed it once it swallowed it:

Greater Yellowlegs:

Back up on the wader roost a flock of American Avocet had settled:

An Anna's Hummingbird displayed:

And brielfy causing chaos before I got too close trying to photograph it, thereby flushing it, a Cooper's Hawk:

A Black Phoebe was unafraid and continued to flick out to catch passing insects:

Ironically last but not least was another Canvasback, so we started and ended the day with them. Turns out though being close to an aiport you can't hunt here, which I strongly approve of, though I'm not sure building new airports with the huge footprint they entail is the answer (Boris):

It turned out to be an excellent day in fact; even with the near continual rainfall, we added a further thirteen new species. Our flight to LA was delayed 90 minutes due to fog up and down the West Coast, when we got there at 9:45pm the airport was literally heaving with massive traffic jams and traffic volumes. To top that we were rented a Mercury Grand Marquis LS, which was a terrible car. It has adjusting seatbelts so people half as wide again as normal can be seated comfortably and has the weight and structure you'd need to support that. AND it has designed-in retro feel, so it's actually designed to be crap, trust me if ever you are offered this car, request a downgrade, you'll be so much better off. We finally reached our hotel a little after 11pm, having surived the LA freeway ordeal. We hated it and had already resolved never to return. So only three days of holiday left then...

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