Monday, November 17, 2014

Birding Delights @ Jewel Lake / Wildcat Creek

Varied Thrush
Tilden Regional Park is a natural wonder on our urban doorstep just minutes away in the Berkeley Hills - even by bike! The lovely Tilden Nature Area is alluring any time of year, especially pretty now with dense brush and forest draped in autumn colors. A stroll around the Nature Area - if you're a birder - can soak up a few hours in no time just ambling around, checking for birds at the edges of the still-flowing creek, in the rich habitat of the winding boardwalk, and at the aviary otherwise known as Jewel Lake, where birdspotting becomes a special art. Often meeting fellow giddily enthusiastic birders, you're bound to see cormorants flapping their wings, mallards and other waterfowl gliding about, herons feeding, Black Phoebes and Anna's Hummingbirds flitting about, Kingfishers darting to and fro (if you're lucky), frenetic Ruby-Crowned Kinglets in their constant search for insects, and several types of Warblers, also single-mindedly engaged in the business of gathering sustenance for survival - and sustenance abounds in the Tilden Nature Area, which accounts for the plethora and diversity of avian visitors and residents.

Acorn Woodpecker
The other day I watch gangs of Acorn Woodpeckers in the marsh ponds flit back and forth from their high perches in the Eucalyptus trees to nearby Oaks to gather their bounty and issue forth chiding aaack aaack aaack calls. On Blue Gum Trail, a troupe of two dozen Wild Turkeys crosses my path, only mildly frightened by vain attempts to film them. At the edge of a dried out pond, I think a Varied Thrush is hiding in dense understory, but can't verify it until returning an hour later just to see. My patience - or timing - is rewarded within a few seconds with a fine glimpse of the handsome thrush, crouched in typical hard to spot, camo'd, secretive pose amid a tangle of branches. No hiding from me this time, but definitely it's not the easiest bird to photograph. (The representative photo you see here was taken the week before at Mitchell Canyon Trail in Mount Diablo State Park.)

Wild Toms
Now how is it that with multiple dozens of visits to the Tilden Nature Area / Wildcat Creek Watershed, I continue to be dumbstruck by the many different birds seen here . . . that I have never seen! Not one! Not once! It makes no sense! Writing for Mount Diablo Audubon Society, Steve Glover casually reports varied sightings of birds spotted in this very area that have thus far completely eluded my sphere of awareness:

Swainson' Thrush (0 sightings)

Allen's Hummingbird (0 sightings)

Nuttall's Woodpecker (0 sightings)

Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Red-eyed Vireo (0 sightings)

Tennessee, Chestnut-sided, Hooded, Black-throated Blue, Black-and-White, and Worm-eating Warblers (0 sightings)

Northern Parula (0 sightings)

Northern Waterthrush (0 sightings)

American Redstart (0 sightings)

Western Wood-Pewee (0 sightings)

Pine Siskin (0 sightings)

Winter Wren (0 sightings)

Red-tailed Hawk
Song Sparrow (0 sightings)

Purple Finch (0 sightings)

Lazuli Bunting (1 sighting in higher park area)

How can this be? Am I not paying attention? Are the birds determined to not pay attention to me? Is my timing off? Do I not know a Swainson's from a Hermit? A Vireo from a Kinglet? A Lark from a Song? Surely not. Like my chanterelle hunting bud of old who had an uncanny ability to magically spot barely popping up fungi, it must take another kind of talent, some preternatural connection, to stand there silently, patiently - expectantly? - until an American Redstart or Northern Parula happens to show up. Maybe, has to be, like I said, about timing. These birds must be early morning or late evening appearing birds, and I'm always, or mostly, here from 10 am to 3 pm. In any event, I could also certainly benefit from instructions, lessons, camaraderie, if only I weren't such a maverick and lone wolf about things.

Tilden Nature Area
I'll settle with my own wonderful sightings recently - of a juvenile Black-crowned Night Heron; an unflappable Great Blue Heron; an exciting first ever sighting of a Warbling Vireo, barely ID'd owing to a last-sec snapshot I managed to capture; and the Varied Thrush I had seen earlier on this day. I decide to making a last-minute detour hoping to see something different, something special. What are the chances? I head up a path through the big Lone Oak meadow paralleling Wildcat Creek, coming to a picnic area where a heretofore unknown pathway leads down a ways to the Nook Pool area. On the opposite side from the usual approach on Wildcat Gorge Trail, everything seems so unfamiliar, exotic even, with unrecognizable grand Redwood and Bay trees and a thick blanket of forest to discover the secretive world of not one, not two, but three Varied Thrushes! Unphotographable as usual, I still manage to witness these pretty burnt-orange striped and tinged birds darting and hopping for several minutes, unaware of the voyeur looking in. A perfect capper to a day that also included sightings of frisky Chestnut-backed Chickadees, a lone Townsend's Warbler, blitzing Scrub and Steller's Jays, many Dark-eyed and Pink-sided Juncos, a slew of Ruby-crowned Kinglets, one Downy and half a dozen Acorn Woodpeckers, two dozen Wild Turkeys, several Vultures, two Red-tailed Hawks, one Bewick's Wren, one Hermit Thrush, a few California Towhees, two Black Phoebes, one Mourning Dove, lots of Bushtits, and a pair of really pretty Adult Male Green-backed Lesser Goldfinches! Much to write home about.

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