Thursday, November 21, 2013

Of Birds Congregating in a Fall Migration Stop-Over (Perhaps)

On the other side of the Berkeley Hills, snaking down Wildcat Canyon Road, a tiny parcel of protected watershed land shelters, in the poetic words of Walt Whitman, "unseen buds, infinite, hidden well." And though tony suburban communities sprawl to the east, it's pretty much bird land in all other directions.

At the Orinda Connector Staging Area, off Bear Creek Road, I ditch my bike in a thicket and sign in at the East Bay Municipal Utility District's check station. (Please pay your fees, carry your permit, and always obey the rules.) Unbeknownst to most who pass this way (thousands of cyclists), some of EBMUD's 27,000 acres of vast and varied East Bay landscape lies hidden just below, encompassing recreational reservoirs (San Pablo and Briones) and old Salmon run tributary streams (Bear and San Pablo Creeks), accessed, courtesy of the District, by miles and miles of hiking and equestrian trails.

When in need of some good old-fashion soul-calibrating solitude, nothing beats a few hours alone in this small, rich, bio-diverse slice of habitat that instantly enchants with its deep, hidden riparian forest. A matrix of EBMUD trails connect to the great Bay Area beyond, out Old San Pablo Trail for five miles, or test your mettle hiking nearly 15 miles on Oursan and Bear Creek Trails, circumnavigating the 60,510 acre ft. flat-out (hilly-out?) beautiful Briones Reservoir.

Some may wonder, what's the fuss. And maybe they're right. After all, my sphere of exploratory wandering / casual go-nowhere investigations encompasses an area no larger than a couple of acres. But they really pack in a ton of stimuli! Ignoring the din of commuter traffic speeding toward the Bay on San Pablo Dam Road, I focus my attention on other things - like communing with tall, old sycamore, pine and oak trees, which provide high canopy for a myriad of unseen birds, infinite, hidden well. Secondary understory and dense shrubbery shelters sweet flowing San Pablo Creek. A short stroll reveals open meadow / scrubland, bordered by thickets of dogwood and remnant apple trees from an old homesteader's orchard. It all makes for a perfect bird sanctuary and all-around nature lover's intimate experience; notwithstanding, the few people I have seen here are always on the move, hiking, running or horseback riding.

Moi? I choose to stick close by in my little wondrous acre contained within an unnoticed miniature paradise. (What's the fuss again?) After signing in, I'm immediately stalled by furious bird activity! Vivacious Chestnut-backed Chickadees here, vibrant Ruby-crowned Kinglets there, with Juncos, Jays, and ground foraging Sparrows getting in the mix. Then - a novel sight! Can it be? Yes, (rare, in my book), it’s a Golden-crowned Kinglet, my first ever spotted in the Bay Area and only the second time I’ve ever seen the tiny, hard-to-spot bird. I'm truly amazed to see a Golden-crowned Kinglet making an appearance, and then hanging around for ten minutes flitting about and - dare I say? - flirting with me! What’s crazy about the bird’s “mystique”  is it’s a fairly common bird, one-hundred million strong, and is a frequent visitor to Bay Area coniferous and deciduous habitats. . .and yet, it's almost like a crypto-avian, this elusive little, seldom-seen bird!

After that thrilling sighting, what next, I wonder. . .here in the mixed forests of San Pablo Creek, you never know what surprises await. San Pablo Creek is a primeval water course that once channeled tons of salmon, which in turn attracted tons of Grizzly Bears and Bald Eagles, but, alas, no more, although San Pablo Reservoir is one of six sites in the forty square mile Bay Area supporting nesting Baldies, which gives you a good idea of this place's nature quotient.

Lolly-gagging along the surprisingly swift flowing creek and scrubby meadow edges for a couple of hours turns into a field day for birdspotting - all quite common but no less a joy to encounter, observe and admire as they go about their unseen, infinite, hidden well business:

Dark-eyed Juncos / American Robins / White-breasted Nuthatches / Northern Flickers / Lesser Goldfinches / Orange-crowned Warbler* (possibly an immature female Yellow Warbler) / Spotted Towhees / California Towhees / Ruby-Crowned Kinglets / Golden-Crowned Kinglet* / Woodpecker* (definitely not a Downy or a Ladderback) / Sparrows (always tough to nail down, don’t know why) / Townsend Warblers / Black Phoebes / Brown Creepers / Turkey Vultures / Red-Tailed Hawks / Varied Thrush / Wood Thrush / Anna's Hummingbird / Chestnut-backed Chickadees / Scrub Jays

*2 birds courtesy of WikiCommons. Thank you for usage!


  1. I don't get how you know you saw the Golden-crowned Kinglet. How can you be sure? I wouldn't be able to tell a Kinglet from a warbler for gods sake. Yeah, you have your bird book, but how can you possibly be sure. The nuances are so subtle.

    1. Yes, indeed, but having positively sighted one a few months ago, it was an easy call, unmistakeable!