Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Year-Round Birding @ Jewel Lake & Tilden Nature Area

Warbling Vireo sporting "drab midsummer" look?
One writes about the places one loves and returns to time and again, more than those places rarely or never visited. I suppose that accounts for my numerous posts on the splendors and treasures of Tilden Regional Park.

The overlooked splendors, the inappreciable treasures, the small miracles, perhaps, of a gem of a "park" in our backyard. Accessible by bike from my North Berkeley home, I'm there in forty minutes, dialed in to endless trails for choice, secluded birding spots. There being grueling mountain bike rides to ridge tops hoping to spot Meadowlarks or Horned Larks, certain to see Red-tails circling or an American Kestrel perched on a fence post.


First sighting of Warbling Vireo - note seasonal (?) difference
There being a recondite bend in the small but rugged and infinitely charming Wildcat Creek, where I first spotted a Wilson's Warbler and, like any discovery, waxed childlike in my enthusiasm at having finally spotted the marvelous bird. There being Conlon Knoll, in a recent post, always a fun place to hang out in the vicinity where I saw my only Lazuli Buntings and Winter Wrens. And there being . . . Jewel Lake and Tilden Nature Area . . .where birding is a year-round, world-class prospect. Fanatic birders, nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts of all ages and abilities love the place.

In earlier times, I neglected to appreciate the hills above Berkeley, living as I did below the Oakland hills, always off to Redwood Regional Park or somewhere farther to the southeast. Today, it's a sanctuary, a get-away, a must-do / must have place of spiritual retreat where I go to wind down and just take a long slow look around. Instagram that! Perhaps my affinity owes itself more to proximity and ease of access than to - blasphemy! it being a very beautiful place and ecological wonderland. (After all, where else does a car-free couple have to go?) But now that I know what I know, and being a birder on top of it, I designate this little parcel of protected land, with a creek running through it, to be a V.S.P. - very special place!
See the two Flycatchers! Who / which?
Take yesterday, for example, where in a few short, quickly passing hours I spotted thirty different birds! Twitter that! Including my second sighting ever of a Warbling Vireo! I spot the little cuss in a tree near the Boardwalk - managing a decent snapshot! Oddly, this guy looks quite different in color and appearance from the less distinct image of the same bird I spotted - ecstatically - (in the same area) - a few months ago. Could be an "Adult, Eastern" variety, but probably not. AllAboutBirds, even though it's barely spring, writes, "Worn midsummer birds can be nearly entirely gray above and whitish below." Which describes my baby. See for yourself. Probably not an Eastern, but the difference is subtle, and my two sightings seem like two different birds.

Up close of one of the pair of unID'd Flycatchers
I'd heard Wilson's Warblers were out 'n about in force, but I only saw one or two, and for just a short time, on the Boardwalk - fabulous habitat for birds along Wildcat Creek in thick protected forest. Nothing doing for a photograph or hearing their sweet "chip chip" calls. Do see two Steller's Jays, which an elderly gentleman I meet soon thereafter - John Smayles, walking with his grandson - claims are imitating the cawing of a hawk. Never heard of it, I say, but he says, yes, it's true, and we go on to have an hour long conversation about birds, birding, "birdier than thou" people, and his association as one-time director of the Point Reyes Bird Observatory back in the seventies. Engaged in a story he's telling about the subtle nuances between certain species of terns, suddenly, high in the eucalyptus branches, two hawks cry out and begin to scuffle, one soon flying off. Turns out, they're Red-shouldered Hawks, and despite Mr. Smayles' determination, I suspect they provided the earlier "imitation" Jay caws. . .but I could be wrong, and Mr. Smayles sure seemed intent on that as being the explanation. So, the appearance of the Red-shoulders, just a coincidence?
Black Phoebe taking a rest from day's feeding activities

Also seen along Blue Gum Trail - several large male Toms; Anna's Hummingbirds; Crows; Spotted Towhees and - what Mr. Smayles referred to as "Rufous-sided" ones; Golden-crowned Sparrow flocks (ground-feeding as usual).

Around the lake, including the marshy pond area, I see the Wilson's Warblers; Ruby-crowned Kinglets; Steller's Jays; Red-shouldered Hawks; Varied Thrush (!);  Adult Male Green-backed Lesser Goldfinches; Black Phoebes; Warbling Vireo; Pacific-slope Flycatcher; Chestnut-backed Chickadees; Bushtits; Brown Creepers; Northern Flicker; Juncos; Mallards; Geese; Buffleheads; Acorn Woodpeckers; and some unID'd flycatchers performing aerial antics over the replenished lake surface, then landing to roost like a pair of love birds in willow branches. Who are you, my friends? I cannot ID you by the book.

Turtle's-eye view of things
Jewel Lake / Tilden Nature Area is a full of other wildlife surprises apart from "just the birds." On the trail to the ponds, a turtle inches along, but disappears by the time I circle back a few minutes later. I'm impressed with his quickness. Four deer crash through a woodsy curtain down a gully and out of sight. Minnows or tadpoles - which would a fourth grader say? - can be found in the muddy shores of the lake. Tiny green Pacific Tree frogs mate in season and can be seen clinging to sedge grasses in the marshes like tiny survivors holding on for dear life until big enough to retreat to the safety of the tall trees where they chirp up a cacophonous chorus announcing territorial and amorous intentions. Western Fence Lizards dart and scurry on rocks, posing languidly in sunny patches, or actively, doing "push-ups." Expect to see rattlesnakes now and again. One of these days, a mountain lion. That's how wild the Berkeley Hills are.
John Smayles (sp?)

Enjoy my other posts on Jewel Lake / Tilden Nature Area / Wildcat Creek @

September 4, 2002
http://berkeleybackyardbirdblog.blogspot.com/2012/09/of-insignificant-but-titillating.html

June 3, 2014
http://berkeleybackyardbirdblog.blogspot.com/2014/06/ecce-ave-prime-time-bird-watching-in.html

July 25, 2014
http://berkeleybackyardbirdblog.blogspot.com/2014/07/one-fine-day-of-birding-at-jewel-lake.html

November 17, 2014
http://berkeleybackyardbirdblog.blogspot.com/2014/11/birding-delights-jewel-lake-wildcat.html

December 11, 2014
http://berkeleybackyardbirdblog.blogspot.com/2014/12/of-golden-crowned-kinglets-spotted-in.html