County Birding: San Mateo and San Francisco Counties Part 2

On Sunday I decided to head to Lake Merced and its environs.

I started at the Vista Grande Canal which is just south of the Concrete Bridge. This concrete canal can have some nice species including the continuing swamp sparrow. I found the sparrow shortly after arriving and enjoyed watching it foraging in the water with excellent mid-morning light.

The continuing swamp sparrow and it’s relflection. The reflected green makes this scene look like a May Morning instead of early February.

Above my head, on a power line, a California scrub-jay perched with an acorn in it’s mouth. This intelligent species is an avian gardner, responsible for oak trees “growing” uphill because of the jay habit of caching thousands of acorns in the ground.

In the distance, toward the lake, I could here the unearthly song of a male great-tailed grackle. This “Devil bird” has been slowly making it’s way north.

My next stop was the Boathouse and docks. This is where I had seen an adult bald eagle a few weeks before. The docks can sometime yield interesting gulls.

I first checked, quiet hopefully, the eucalyptus for the adult bald eagle but this bird had flow weeks ago. With the naked eye, I could see a lone gull on the nearest wooden dock. It’s grey mantle and white underparts said, “small adult gull”.

I put bins on the bird and I realized that this was no ordinary gull for this location. What I was looking at was a wintering pelagic gull that rarely comes ashore excepted when pushed towards land, ahead of a storm front. And there had not been a storm in the past week. The bird I was looking at was an adult black-legged kittiwake!

I grabbed my camera and headed down to the docks to get a better look. Yes the yellow-green bill and dark “ear muffs” put this in the kittiwake category. I took some photos for documentation for this was indeed a rare bird at this location. Most kittiwakes in San Francisco, are seen by scope when birders are doing a seawatch. The last two eBird reports of black-legged kittiwake from Lake Merced where from 2001 and 1977!

One of the first photos I took of the wayward kittiwake. The indentation just under the breast seemed off. When the kittiwake turned to face me I could see the reason this pelagic species had been forced ashore. There was a deep indentation under it’s breast and a large, open wound in it’s chest. The kittiwake was injured.

The kittiwake had come ashore to rest and die.

I watched the kittiwake as it repeatedly drank water. It occasionally sat down but then stood up again and took another sip of water.

This angle shows the open wound, perhaps caused by a fishing line.

I put word out to local birders of my find. I wanted other birders to witness this pelagic rarity on the shores of a San Franciscan lake before it flew off or passed away. In all about 11 birders reported seeing the kittiwake that Sunday.

One report, from mid afternoon, noted that animal control attempted to net the kittiwake but it was well enough to fly off towards the gull flock in the middle of the lake. It eventual returned to it’s favored place on the wooden dock.

The last eBird report of this bird was just after 4 PM and then it was seen no more.

The adult kittiwake taking a sip of water. This photo is bittersweet. While is was amazing to see a new San Francisco County bird but also realizing that I was probably witnessing the kittiwake’s last day on Earth.

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