West Coast “Snow Day”

PG & E gave me a gift by cutting off power in the Highlands neighborhood because of high winds and dry conditions. I found out late Sunday afternoon that we would be without power and school was cancelled. Call it a Bay Area “snow day”.

The Kincade Fire in Sonoma County was making San Francisco smell like a camp fire so I planned to get out of Dodge and head south, on Highway One, and bird some of my favorite places in San Mateo County: Devil’s Slide (it was closed), Fitzgerald Marine Preserve, Pillar Point, Tunitas Creek Beach, Pigeon Point, Pescadero Beach, Ano Nuevo, and Gazos Creek Road. I have birded some of these locations for almost 20 years and they are always points of solace and repose. And some amazing birds and wildlife!

I started the morning with breaking the fast at Java Beach, across from the San Francisco Zoo on Sloat Boulevard. My first planned stop was Devil’s Slide. The gates to the parking lot were closed. Driving through Pacifica told me why. The power was out and all hands where helping to direct traffic at intersections where traffic lights where down, which meant all of them.

I drove on to Pillar Point and walked out to the point. Highlights where common loon (I just saw this species on Squam Lake in New Hampshire), red-breasted nuthatch, spotted sandpiper (which I’m always surprised to see, not sure why), and brown pelican. Brown pelican is such a common bird on the west coast but we should never forget how close to extinction this species was (because of DDT). This is such an amazing bird to see in flight. Let’s not forget the power of the commonplace.

I sat back against the rocky levy and did a loose sketch of the hills (the Coast Range as I teach my students).


The view from Pillar Point, looking northeast.

My next stop was Tunitas Creek Beach, where a week ago I have seen the Bar-tailed godwit. This rarity had flown but was now replaced by the Hudsonian godwit that was associating with a group of marbled godwits. I was joined by four other birders from the Sierra Nevada who were out on the coast to see a west coast rarity. And I was happy to point it out to them.

IMG_6882The Hudsonian godwit (left) and two larger marbled godwits on Tunitas Creek Beach.

S Plover

Pen brush field sketch of a snowy plover on Tunitas Creek Beach.

I headed further south and my main focus on the open plains of the San Mateo Coast was raptors. I found red-tailed hawks, American kestrel, northern harrier, white-tailed kite, but no ferruginous or rough-legged hawks. I  had seen a roughie  on October 18 at this location.

IMG_6315I found this rough-legged hawk as I was driving south to my cabin in Santa Cruz. This is an infrequent bird for San Mateo County and I’m glad some birders got to add it to their county list. On my return visit, I did not see the hawk.

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